Customer Complaints

Customer Complaints

How to handle customer complaints.


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Customer Complaints - Degrees of losing.
2006 David Peterson

I'm a pretty good salesman, and a darn good sales manager, but I am the best complaint solver you will ever meet. I have been on every type of complaint you can imagine. Complaints typically start off unpleasant. My job is to save the customer. In my consumer product years, I have driven up in my company car and have had customers yell at me before I even open the door. I have had to ask the complaining customer on the phone if I should bring the sheriff with me. I have had people actually crying before I had the chance to look at the problem. In my web hosting years when a server went down the customers would just scream and scream. They all had sites that were losing thousands of dollars a second. I have had web designers run scripts that will take a server down then blame it on the hosting company because the script worked at every other host they have ever had.

What do I think about all of the complaining people and what makes me so good at solving their issues? The following 5 golden rules will help you become great at solving complaints. The first two are easy, the next three take skill:

1)The customer is always right! (Even when they are wrong!)

2)I understand that before I even contact the complaining customer I can't "win." Complaints are really just degrees of losing.

3)Listen to the complaint. When I say listen I mean shut up and let the customer speak uninterrupted. Even if they are yelling at the top of their lungs just sit there and take it. This could take 20 seconds or it could take 20 minutes. The point that you have heard it all before so you can go ahead and interrupt the customer to move on is moot. This particular customer wants to tell you their problem. They don't care if you have heard it before they want you to hear it from them. If you interrupt they will just get madder and you know what - you will get madder too. But if you just sit there and take it in...the complaining customer will eventually tell you what went wrong. Through all of the "...your company is responsible for this mess...," and the " are going to pay for that....," you will actually hear, if you wait long enough, what the customer did to your product to make it not perform as planned. Works every time, the complaining customer actually tells on themselves. Once they have stopped talking and they have told on themselves its time to move to the next step. You know when you can move on if you can have 5 seconds of complete silence. Use this rule: Don't say anything after the customer has stopped talking for 5 long seconds then move on with educating the customer.

4)If you have completed #3 successfully the customer has told you what went wrong with the product. Now its time to educate the customer on how the product should have performed. The education process is critical in solving the complaint. It's critical because the customer is going to have to use your product to finish the job. You know you have sold a lot of these items so you know it works. How your customer is working your product may be a different answer. Remember this is a complaint and the customer assumes he did everything right. Your goal here should be to explain how the product was intended to work. Don't admit that your product has problems in specific areas but point out to the customer that had it been done this way (not his way) it would have worked. When "educating" the customer be careful not to offend them. They are already a bit touchy so if they are trying to make a strong point just let them. It's during the education process where you have to make the distinction between your product and others as well. When the customer says this other product worked extremely well, you then say "you know I heard that was a great product." Don't get into a competitive product match or you will be back at the listening section again. The point of the educational process is if you are refunding money or giving more product away the customer will know how to do it next time and will thank you for the advice. You will need the thank you because the hard part is coming.

5) The hard part is the settlement of the complaint. Now if you have done steps 3 and 4 correctly the settlement should be fairly easy. However I'm a realist and you probably have some work to do here. Remember complaints are degrees of losing. You have lost your
time, your money, your patience and most of all your reputation. The customer has also lost those items and they are gone for good as far as your product is concerned. Since you are going to lose something, the degree of your loss is up to you. In your settlement the bottom line is to be fair and equitable and let the customer know that this is fair (yes you are in sales so sell the fair factor). During the settlement phase you may get to sell the customer an upgrade, or more product or whatever. In a losing situation that is the best you are going to do. More often you end up giving away product, extra months, full refunds or whatever. You and your customer have lost regardless if you were able to sell something or give something away. It took so long, so much effort to gain even that complaining customer that you owe it to yourself and your company to salvage some type of relationship. If you can agree on an equitable solution then you may still have that customer for life and that adds to the bottom line in any business.

In conclusion complaints are just degrees of losing. However, by using the 5 rules above you will become much better at solving complaints. If you get better then you will protect the bottom line. It's the bottom line that counts in business.


David Peterson

David Peterson

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