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BREAKING BUSINESS DOWN: How to manage customer complaints

No business enjoys dealing with unhappy and unsatisfied customers.
No business enjoys dealing with unhappy and unsatisfied customers. - 123RF Stock Photo

My first job after leaving school was in the complaints and enquiries department on the fourth floor of Harrods in London, England — the world’s most luxurious (and expensive) department store.

I should mention that the fourth floor is the toy department … a common misconception was that my job was to play with toys all day. In reality, I learned how to deal with, placate and manage all types of individuals.

Complaints ranged from the relatively tame “why is the same toy being sold at a 1/4 of the price at Toys R Us?” to being spat in the face when I informed an irate mother that the Pingu Igloo her little darling wanted was still out of stock.

I soon developed a thick skin, perforated intermittently by the kindness of certain clients and some surprisingly well-behaved children. It also taught me how to deal with complaints.

In business, even if you have the best product and service in the world, sooner or later someone is going to complain and you should try and anticipate this eventuality.

On social media a few weeks ago, a Lunenburg business asked for advice on how to handle their first unhappy client and there seemed to be a few painful lessons to learn.

1. Manage your clients’ expectations.

This is absolutely key. When starting out in business, it is common to try and give your clients everything they ask for (and beyond) in order to win their custom. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as the client knows that there are limits, otherwise you’re going to get complaints.

If you over-promise on a service or product and you can’t deliver, complaints. If you don’t meet a timeline that was over-ambitious, complaints. Ensure you give yourself enough time and margin to guarantee that the client gets value for money and always document any agreement.

2. Offer the client a reasonable solution to the issue.

If the client doesn’t accept it, don’t push it, they are angry and disappointed so inform them of the offer, email it if possible to record it. Give them a day or two to calm down and contact them again. If they still don’t accept your resolution, then ensure you have covered as many options as possible.

3. Sincerity is crucial.

If the client feels that you are just paying them lip service and don’t really understand their issue, then they won’t want to work with you to resolve the issue. Put yourself in their shoes, understand their perspective and think about what you would want from the situation.

Most people are reasonable, and if an effort is made to improve on the work done, then most are accepting and appreciative of the extra effort. However, if the client still leaves unhappy and the issue unresolved, you just need to ensure that you did everything practically possible to attend to the problem and understand that some issues are unresolvable, and some clients unreasonable. Learn from the experience and ensure that it can’t happen again.

Trust me, no angry client can compete with Jean-Claude Van Damme having a tantrum because his Power Ranger Megazord didn’t light up.

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