Why companies want customer complaints — and how to handle them

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John Tschohl writes about customer service on SmallBusinessExecutive.

John Tschohl discusses ways to turn a customer complaint into a loyalty-building opportunity.

By John Tschohl

Guest columnist

No matter how good you are at what you do, what business you’re in or where it’s located, you will at some point find yourself facing an irate customer. Maybe a product was flawed, a delivery was late or a charge was inaccurate. How you deal with that customer not only will determine how he or she feels about your organization, but how you feel about yourself.

When you are able to turn an irate customer into a satisfied one, you will gain confidence in your ability to defuse a volatile situation and to evoke a positive outcome. You also will gain the respect of your co-workers and you will get the attention of your supervisors. And, who knows, you might even get promoted.

When most people come in contact with an irate customer, their first instinct is to turn and run. Dealing with a customer who is upset about a problem can be more than a little daunting. With the proper perspective, however, you will see that the customer’s complaint is actually an opportunity for you and your organization to put your best foot forward.

Customers who have complaints are a blessing in disguise. They are letting you know where you and your organization have flaws and are providing you with the opportunity to correct them. When you do, you will see increased customer loyalty, revenues and profits. It’s a win-win situation.

What to do:

Dealing with irate customers and solving their problems is a critical element of providing great service. When dealing with an irate customer, follow these steps:

Listen carefully and with interest to what the customer is telling you.

Apologize without laying blame, regardless of who is at fault.

Put yourself in the customer’s place, and respond in a way that shows you care about his or her concerns. Use phrases such as, “I understand that must be upsetting,” or “I don’t blame you for being upset; I would feel the same way.”

Ask pertinent questions in a caring, concerned manner, and actively listen to the answers.

Suggest one or more alternatives that would address the customer’s concerns.

Solve the problem quickly and efficiently, or find someone who can.

Using these steps will quickly calm most unhappy or angry customers and allow you to address and solve their problems. Patience and tact are key. When a customer is making outrageous statements and throwing a fit, remain calm. Do not take those statements personally. Apologize, take the blame and empathize with the customer. Then go and solve the problem.

What not to do:

Just as important as what you should do, here are four things you should not do:

1. Don’t directly challenge someone who has a complaint and is angry. Even if that customer is wrong, don’t attempt to prove it. Your goal is to solve the problem, not to enter into a debate on the merits of the complaint.

2. Don’t let the conversation wander or get off the topic. Solve the crisis at hand without looking for additional problems.

3. Don’t participate in fault-finding. Shifting blame doesn’t help anyone.

4. Don’t let your personal feelings get in the way. Stay cool and use courtesy and tact to defuse the situation.

When you successfully handle irate customers and their complaints, you will be rewarded with a satisfied customer who will be loyal to you and your organization. That loyalty will have a positive impact on your organization’s bottom line and make you look like a hero.

John Tschohl is president of  the Service Quality Institute and author of the books, “Achieving Excellence Through Customer Service” and “Empowerment: A Way of Life.”

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