Richard Maun – Handling Complaints Brilliantly

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Handling Complaints Brilliantly

16 June 2019

We all work hard and do our best and yet sometimes events conspire against us and we might get a complaint.

At the end of a long day we find that we now have to placate an irritated customer, when all we want to do is go home and put our feet up. However, the customer comes first, so our evening can wait a while.

The most important part of complaint handling is to listen. We must focus on the other person and push our own opinions to one side, even if it’s tempting to tell them how wrong or difficult they are.

The key phrase to say is ‘I’ve heard what you’ve said’ and maybe make a note of their words for emphasis.

Telling people they’ve been heard may seem obvious, but it’s surprising how often this is all they want to hear.

Being heard is a basic human need. We can repeat back their words to them to demonstrate that we have been paying attention and smile as we do so.

The next thing to do is to apologise. Saying sorry shows humility and recognises there is emotion involved. Simply sticking to facts ignores the emotion, so saying ‘thank you for raising this, it’s clearly important to you’ recognises their feelings.

It’s pointless trying to move to a conclusion if we don’t pay attention to their feelings, because people need to be soothed. (A lot like dealing with a small and stroppy child). Otherwise, their emotions will get in the way and will prevent them from thinking clearly.

We can also match their voice tone and level as a way of showing we really are hearing them. If they are talking loudly we can reply loudly…this matching tells them they’ve really been heard. We can also use emphasis too, such as ‘we are really taking this seriously’ …the word ‘really’ serves to underline our committment.

Complaints are useful. They tell us what is important to customers, or indeed to our line managers within a business.

We must listen to a complaint or ignore it at our peril. I used to ignore my boss when he grumbled, when I was first in work, and in the end he had enough of me and waved goodbye. (Actually he didn’t wave, but I waved back anyway as I was pleased to be on my way, but I was still out of a job).

When handling a complaint we need to find a resolution that works for both parties and maybe we have to give more ground than ideally we’d like to. Offering a free meal, instead of a reduction in costs, feels much more conciliatory to people than us appearing penny pinching. In fact, being generous makes us look good and instead of telling their friends how bad we are, the complainant is likely to tell them how well we treated them.

Making a mistake is okay, it’s going to happen, but how we resolve it says a lot about our real attitude to customers.

Listen to people. Acknowledge their feelings. Match their level of emotion and only then offer solutions to their issue. We can’t defeat feelings with facts, so don’t go there until the person complaining has expended their energy and is now willing to listen to us.

To be brilliant we have to really show we are listening, be willing to show genuine humility and be generous in our resolution.

This week, maybe take a fresh look at your complaint handling procedure and see if it really encourages staff to listen.

Next week: Business Beaches


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