A client who is complaining to you is an annoyed customer. Annoyance is a particularly negative emotion. It breeds dislike, or in the worst case even fury, toward your organisation. Every one involved in telephone sales training knows that with every complaint and claim for a full refund it is necessary for the person handling that customer to distinguish between the real facts and the customers feelings.
There is nothing particularly earth shattering about the facts: a product arrived two weeks late, two services were exchanged, an item was defective. These kinds of mistakes can happen however well and precisely your business works.
Experience shows us that the mistakes themselves are not the main problem. The situation only becomes difficult if the person making a complaint is dealt with incorrectly in emotional terms. Typical examples of incorrect behaviour in those tasked with handling complaints are statements such as:
"This kind of thing is always happening with us." "You're lucky all the same, we have had much worse cases." "That has never happened to us before, what did you do then?" "I have never heard such a thing before." "Well I can't do anything about that!" "You are not the only one who ..."
All these statements are what telephone sales training courses describe as "killer phrases". Such killer phrases can end a client - supplier relationship once and for all.
But what is the correct way to handle the emotional side of a client's complaint?
First, anyone receiving a client complaint must identify themselves with their organisation. The employee who simply doesn't care if things go wrong or if client is annoyed should look for another job where they do not have to deal with people. Only those who genuinely support their company are really affected by a complaint and can therefore act in an emotionally genuine way.
Next, let the client have their say. A customer who is complaining should not be interrupted. Simply listen and say nothing first of all. When you think the client has finished count slowly to 5 and only after this small 'pause for thought' should you start to talk.
When you do talk, address the customer's feelings with emotional first person statements. Show the customer or tell them how much their complaints affect you. With 'I' sentences like:
"I am very sorry about that ..." "I take that very seriously ..." "It matters a lot to me ..." "That gives me cause for concern ..." "I am very worried ..." "That annoys me ..." "That deeply affects me ..." "I am not happy with ..."
In this way you appeal to their willingness to be helpful. Typical customer reactions to an emotional 'I' statement are:
"Of course you personally can't help it." "Of course I didn't mean you personally."
The customer recognises that you are hurt and will do all in your power to solve the problem. If the customer continues to reject your emotional 'I' statements they have taken up a hostile position towards you or your company and an enemy will try to use expressions like this against you as welcome signs of weakness.
Finally, it is vitally important that whoever receives the complaint should also be the one who follows up. The same person who had the first contact with the customer when they made their complaint should also contact the customer again after the problem has been solved. They should enquire whether everything has been settled to the customer's satisfaction.
A top tip I picked up from a telephone sales training course was that by pro-actively calling the complaint handler could get rid of their feelings of guilt about that customer once and for all. Indeed the up side is that the client may sense that now the tables are turned and that they now owe you something, which could, for example, be their next order. A particularly positive outcome from a potentially very unpleasant experience.