The recent holiday shopping season was a time of hustle, bustle and, for some, a lot of stress. Correspondingly, many business owners experienced not only the happy ring of a busy cash register, but also the occasional unhappy sting of a customer's complaint.
But the fact is, complaints can happen any time of year as customers' busy schedules and short tempers collide, leading to criticism about some aspect of your goods or services. Fortunately, you can choose to see a complaint as an important customer leverage point, and work to turn a negative into a positive. What you do about a complaint will determine whether the customer leaves your business in a bad mood, never to return, or whether you can satisfy them to the point that they become a repeat client. From a strategic standpoint, complaints are actually opportunities waiting to be capitalized on.
Taking a strategic view
It's paramount that you not act on your knee-jerk, emotional reactions to a complaint, because the situation could escalate in the wrong direction. On the contrary, the ideal way to solve complaints is to take the time to discover the root cause of the customer's dissatisfaction, and then deal with the situation in a practical manner. It is much better to proactively address the complaint, so that the customer feels heard and the problem is quickly rectified.
For example: if the customer complains that they waited a long time and no one helped them, you could try giving the client more individualized and personalized attention. Or, perhaps you could evaluate every point in the client's buying cycle to determine where you or your staff may, in fact, have dropped the ball.
You need to show the customer that you care about them, and that you will take the experience as a lesson that you will apply to your business. Customers appreciate it when their concerns are validated, and not ignored or brushed off.
Ultimately, however, your goal should be to go beyond implementing a one time "fix", and work to systematize solutions so that similar complaints won't happen again -- either with that customer, or with any other customers. If you don't strategically identify a system to address complaints, you will never know if you just fixed something this once, or if you solved it for good.
Systematizing the solution
One important step you can take is to identify the complaints and the various solutions and put them down in writing. Then, you should take into account any necessary resources required to implement this new system, such as new technology, new staff accountabilities, or additional training that could serve the business for both the short and the long term.
Once those issues have been clarified, you can roll the system out to the users. This does not mean simply leaving a copy with a "please read" post-it note on their desk. Rather, it might be a good idea for you and your employees to actively role-play complaint scenarios, so that they can see how similar complaints can be better handled in the future. You may also want to engage your employees through question-and-answer periods and discussion sessions to ensure that they have no hesitations about the new system, and that any uncertainties are resolved.
After the system has been developed and rolled out to employees, then what? Should you assume that you will no longer receive any customer complaints? Not necessarily. You must continue to keep an eye out for any weaknesses in the system, quickly identify any new complaints, and then fold the solutions to those new complaints into the system. It will be a perpetual cycle of innovating, quantifying, orchestrating, and constantly improving.
Opportunities in disguise
Remember, you should actually appreciate hearing complaints because they give you a clear reference point of where you can do better. You will never reach your objectives if you react to complaints negatively, sweep them under the rug, or do not take them seriously.
Complaints are really just opportunities in disguise that can enable you to optimize and improve the inner workings of the business. And, if you can start to see a customer complaint as a leverage point to turn a negative into a positive, you can take advantage of the opportunity to take your business to the next level.