You may believe, after all of the great stuff that I have mentioned about my company, that I have never had any problems, challenges, or customer complaints. However, that is far from the truth!
As the owner of my company, I have heard many complaints over the years from customers – and some were very angry.
So how do you handle customer complaints?
In my earlier years of running my company, I approached it this way: When I knew an upset customer wanted to talk with me, I would first go and get all of my facts about the situation before I would talk with the customer.
Getting all of those facts first prepared me to…
- Be “loaded for bear”
- Defend my company
- Prevent the customer from embarrassing me
- Allow me to set the customer straight on what really happened
- Save my company money by not having to correct the complaint
- Win the argument
Observation: Can you see my “pride” all over the method above?
I learned this method was not working because that customer not only became an “ex-customer”, but also, I stirred a passion in that “ex-customer” that they made sure several potential customers heard of their complaint and how I handled it.
That was not good.
Before a downfall the heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor. Proverbs 18:12 NIV
Through trial and error, I finally discovered a method that has worked well for many years.
I learned to…
- Cherish these complaints because they opened my eyes to gaps in our customer communication and service.
Tip: Always remain calm and respectful. Customers are not our natural-born enemies. We need them to be our friends.
- Take these phone calls immediately without first gathering all the facts
- Focus fully on listening to what the customer had to say so I could empathetically feel and understand them
- Not fill my mind with the baggage that resulted when I first gathered all of the facts
- Never interrupt the customer, but allow them to vent
“The word listen contains the same letters as the word silent.” – Alfred Brendel
- Confirm understanding by agreeing with how they felt and by asking questions to demonstrate that I was listening
- Enlist help from the customer in the creation or selection of a solution to rebuild a positive relationship
- Ask for permission to gather appropriate information and call back in 10 minutes
- Never forget to call back in ten minutes, even though I did not have all of the information, to assure the customer I would do what I say. And if I needed more time, I would ask permission to call back later
It was amazing while the customer was complaining they would often say, “You probably already know….”
And I felt so good to say with integrity, “No, because I wanted to hear from you first before I went to hear what our people had to say.”
I found customers were so surprised by my answer that it really disarmed them because they expected a defensive confrontation.
Exception: If I ever had a customer get so emotional that they started to curse at me, I would calmly and politely warn them that if they did not stop, I was going to end the call. Most stopped, but I have had a few who chose to continue. So I hung up on them.
“Your emotions will always override your intellect.” – Bobby Albert
Every leader and every person can handle an angry customer by using these two practices.
Maintaining good communication between people in a family, with friends, and at work is rooted in mutual understanding and is fundamental to their mutual success.
During our AQLTM (Ask Questions and Listen) QIC-Day, we experienced these two practices, and we discovered that all of us have lots of room for improvement in the skills of…
- Asking Questions and
Even though our AQL QIC-Day emphasis was focused on asking quality discovery questions, we did spend time learning how we could improve our listening skills.
And we used a customer complaint role-play to illustrate and to teach us the skill of listening.
In Stephen Covey’s best-selling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he shared the practice of empathic listening.
When practicing empathic listening, people are really trying to discover and understand what the other person is saying and feeling from the other person’s point of view.
Empathetic listening requires listening and responding with both the heart (motive) and the mind to understand the speaker’s words, intent, and feelings.
The essence is not that you agree with someone. It’s that you fully, deeply, understand that person, emotionally as well as intellectually.
“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” – Stephen Covey
Click <here> to download a printable page with this quote!
Until the complaining customer (or anyone else) feels understood, they are not…
- Motivated to listen to you
- Receptive to your wise counsel
Is there room for improvement when it comes to your listening skills?
When you must deal with a complaining customer, you’ll be surprised how much respect and appreciation you gain just by asking good questions.
Stephen Covey shares from his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the following sampling of his questions used to acknowledge understanding when there is high emotion present:
- “As I get it, you felt that….”
- “I’m picking up that you….”
- “So, as you see it….”
- “What I guess I’m hearing is….”
- “As I hear it, you….”
- “Your feeling now is that….”
- “You must have felt….”
Everyone can improve their customer service by adopting these AQLTM principles.
The skills of asking questions and listening will help you effectively address your unhappy customers.
And they must be built on a caring attitude and sincere desire to understand and serve your customers.
Click this image to download a printable page to help remind you of this important concept!
What has been your method of handling customer complaints? Do you first gather all of the facts? Do you ask questions and listen? Please share your comments <here> and share this blog post with a friend and co-worker.