How Do You Handle Complaints? I Thought So...
I don’t care how long you’ve been in the business or what a nice person you are. It doesn’t matter. Human nature causes all of us to have a problem when someone complains about us – what we didn’t do correctly…or what we did do that they didn’t like.

So how do we handle these nasty intruders into our otherwise perfect, professional worlds?

Cock-eyed optimists and some self-help gurus would say, “Look at every complaint as an opportunity?”

Are they kidding? An opportunity to what…go sit on the naughty seat for our sins?

Actually, if you can hone your skills to successfully handle complaints, you do have the opportunity to transform angry, frustrated clients into loyal customers. “But, how?” you may be asking.

Well, here’s an unexpected question: Do you encourage your clients to bring their complaints to you if they’re not satisfied?

Hmmm. You may be thinking,“Are you crazy? I have enough on my plate and inviting people to complain is not a top priority.”

If it’s not, it should be. Why? Because if people feel that you’re open to hearing about their disappointment or dissatisfaction, you’ve already created a win for your firm…plus, you’ve probably dissuaded someone from going off on you – either in person or by phone – and creating a nasty scene along with nasty feelings…on both sides of the conversation.

Your ultimate goal in these situations is to somehow create a win-win solution. We all want our customers to leave the complaint session feeling listened to, well taken care of…and valued. A customer-focused mindset will have a tremendous impact on accomplishing these goals.

Along with customer focus, an invaluable tool for dealing with challenging situations is what we’ll call “Four Steps to Mutual Success.”

This four-step approach will help you provide you – and your customers - with a positive experience. Aside from reaching a win-win solution, this plan will help leave your customers feeling listened to, well taken care of, and valued:

Step 1 – Plan
• What do you want as the end result? (i.e., save the customer, resolve an issue, etc…)
• What can you do or provide the customer independently or with your supervisor’s approval? What can't you do because of your firm’s policy or local, state, U.S. law?
• What are the common problems and win-win solutions.
Plan to arrive at a solution that will be a win for both your firm and the customer. If you are successful, you will retain the customer, exceed their expectations, and provide a very positive customer experience so that he/she will want to return to your firm the next time your services are needed.

Step 2 – Honest concern and effort
• Any time a customer comes to you disappointed or dissatisfied, your first response should always be, “I’m sorry for any discomfort/inconvenience/hardship this has caused. What would you like me to do?”
• These words are essential so customers feel that they have been heard and that you respect them. It also clears the way to move forward by helping diffuse the emotion and placing us on the side of the customer.
• Be aware of your body language. Your attempts to rectify the situation will be wasted effort if your body language sends a message that contradicts your words. Above all, be honest and sincere.

Step 3 – Creating Resolution
• Offering a resolution is not a challenge if we’ve done the first steps properly. As you present the resolution, we want to state, specifically, what we are going to do for the customer. You may also offer alternatives in this step.
• Note: Always emphasize what you CAN do. Nobody wants to hear what you can’t do…because in many cases, that’s why the customer has come to you in the first place.

Step 4 – Transforming your resolution into a joint resolution
• Once again, ask the customer what else you can do to create satisfaction.
• If they don’t have a solution, ask, “What do you think about x?”
• Once you’ve set out your plan to fix the problem, check with the customer. Ask them, “Are you with me?” “Does that make sense?” “Will this meet your needs?”
• Then ask, “Is this satisfactory?”
• Restate again, “You’re important to us. Our goal is to make this time easier for you.”

Once the resolution has been carried out, it’s always a good idea to check back with the client, asking, “Is there anything else you need?” Never be argumentative…have a servant’s spirit.

Remember: Your goal is to smooth a rough road…a road that will lead back to your firm again and again.