By Adrian Swinscoe, Director, RARE Business

Let’s play a game of word association. If I said: ‘Customer complaints!’, what would you say? Any of the following?

- Customers are tricky and they are forever trying to get stuff for free.

- Some of my customers are real idiots

- Is there no end to what they will complain about?

- Why don’t they just read my email and the instructions and everything would be okay

- They only ever complain about minor stuff

- Why can’t they say anything positive

When faced with a customer complaint, how do you react? Do you:

- Tremble with fear

- Put your ‘dukes’ up or adopt a Crouching Tiger-like defensive stance ; or

- seek to listen and engage?

The reason I ask these questions is that how we think about customers and customer complaints is key to how we react to them. And, what happens and how we react when first faced with a customer complaint is hugely important in creating the lasting impression that we make on the customer.

In reality, all a customer complaint really is is a statement of how someone has been let down and how something or other has not met their expectations. Right?

But, it is also an opportunity for a business to respond, to listen, to show they care and to solve a problem.

Seen like this, when a customer complains to a business it’s like giving the business a gift (sometimes it can look and feel like it is in disguise, I admit) but it is up to the business to decide how and if it wants to carefully open this gift to see what’s inside.

Because complaining customers are still customers... and customers who take time to complain still have some confidence in the business. In most cases, it is less of a hassle just to take their business to the competition, so those who do complain are showing some degree of loyalty.

At a seminar that I ran for Wellers Accountants recently on handling customer complaints called ‘Delight from Disatisfaction’, I learnt a really simple way of handling complaints from Mark Blackmore of Lammore.

Here it is:

L — Listening to Understand

- This step is key when trying to diffuse any tension that may come with a complaint. I am sure that we all know that to full an argument you must be argumentative. Therefore, to listen to someone’s concerns is key to diffusing the situation and understanding their issue.

E — Empathise and Take Responsibility

- Empathy (trying to understand their position) is different to sympathy. You need to focus on them and understand them with phrases like ‘I can understand how that would make you feel’ and 'I can see why you feel that way' but be careful not to collude. Next, you need to accept responsibility for the problem. It’s your problem not theirs. They are the customer.

A — Ask/Propose a Solution

- Once, you have developed an understanding of the situation and the customer knows that you have taken responsibility of the problem you are now in a position to come up with a concrete plan/solution proposals to remedy the situation.

D — Deliver on the Promise

- Finally, this is the most important part as it will define the lasting impression that you will leave with the customer. Always do what you say you are going to do when you say you will do it. Be true to your word. It’s personal for them so make it personal for you.

So, when faced with a complaint try using the LEAD method. It works really well.

I hope you find this method helpful. However, I’m always interested in learning more, simple ways of handling complaints. What methods do you use?