“How will you fix it? I want my money back! You guys messed up and I want to talk to your manager!” Ugh. Nothing causes anxiety faster in business than customer complaints.
If you’ve ever felt that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach after opening that email or answering that call, then you know what I mean. While it’s not my favorite part of business (not even close), I have been on the problem solving side of customer complaints for over a decade now and I’ve learned some skills along the way that can help you handle your own customer complaints better.
My crash test course of resolving conflict happened when I was a Wedding Planner at one of the largest hotels in our area. Several months into the job, I started feeling anxiety every single Monday when I knew I would have to call the clients from the weekend to see how their weddings and events went. It never failed, one out of every six weddings per weekend usually had a complaint. Some of those complaints required a simple apology because they just wanted us to be aware of the problem so we could fix it; others demanded large amounts of money back and were not happy at all.
It was rough. And I had zero conflict resolution skills at that time. My way of handling it was basically to gather up my anxiety and stuff it down, then put on a stoic face that I thought showed confidence, but actually looked and felt more like constipation. Then I would go to my Director of Sales or my GM and have them fix it while I just relayed info as requested. Not an ideal way of handling conflict, that’s for sure!
Eventually I landed on my own personal growth journey where I found ways to stretch outside my comfort zone. I discovered skills on how to grow a business and how to honor people. It was life-changing! I took those skills into my new position as the PR Director at a different hotel (because, turns out, the wedding planning industry was NOT my passion after all!). It was in this position that I really learned how to honor people and resolve those customer complaints to the point where our hotel went from barely on the radar of the top hotels in the chain to Top 10, then Top 5 of the entire brand within 1 year! It was awesome!
So how did I do it?
Here are my top 5 Tips to Handle Customer Complaints Better:
1. Always apologize.
All customers want to be heard. Bringing up a concern is not easy for some people. For others it is one of their favorite things because they love the debate and/or drama. Either way, all customers want to be heard. They want to know that their voice matters. That THEY matter. Apologizing for their bad experience is a must, even if you don’t agree. It doesn’t matter if you agree or not. Their expectations were not met and a sincere apology is one of the easiest ways to begin rebuilding trust with that customer or client.
2. Never give reasons or excuses.
When giving a sincere apology, make sure that you never give reasons or excuses as to why the mistake happened. Unless they specifically ask for one, they don’t want to hear one. Think about it – when you are the customer giving a complaint, do you care about the reasons and excuses as to why something happened? Most likely the answer is no. Your customers and clients won’t care either. Reasons and excuses don’t solve problems; they usually only make the situation worse.
3. Always ask “How Can We Make It Up To You?”
This is where most people miss it. When faced with a customer complaint, anxiety tends to take over and all rational thinking goes out the window. Instead of thinking about the client first, and asking them how to make it better, we can get into a frenzy of problem-solving. We will try to come up with all the best solutions and end up wasting time and energy on solutions that might not meet their needs at all.
So be brave. Be humble. ASK them how you can make it up to them! When you do, you’ll find that sometimes the apology and honor in hearing them is all some people need. Others will ask for refunds or freebies, and that’s okay too. Just because a customer asks for a refund or freebie doesn’t mean that it’s the right solution, but you’ll never know how to meet their expectations if you don’t ask.
Also, keep this in mind – some customers are great at negotiating so they will ask for the farm just to see where the middle is for you. That’s okay too. It’s all part of business and should not be taken personally!
4. Never make assumptions.
When we make assumptions, things go downhill fast! While we shouldn’t make assumptions about how to fix the problem, we should also be aware of making assumptions that paint the situation into a personal issue. Customer complaints are business issues, plain and simple. Even if the complaint comes from a close friend or relative, it’s business. Stay professional about it and honor them just as you would a stranger that chooses to do business with you. Don’t assume that it’s personal.
When you feel the need to make things personal and prove your value or worth as a person, it’s a big clue that you’ve got some hidden hurts within your own heart. I highly recommend working on that so you stop struggling with customer complaints and conflict in general. This tool is a great place to start!
5. Always evaluate what you learned and what could have been done differently.
Every customer complaint is an opportunity for you and your team to grow professionally. There is a time and place to evaluate what you learned and what could be done differently to avoid future complaints and issues. That time and place is AFTER the situation. Make sure you honor the customer by rebuilding trust with a sincere apology and asking them how you can fix the problem. Then, after that, take good notes on what worked well and what didn’t. Then implement a new mindset, new skills, or new policies with your team as needed.
I used to have severe anxiety when handling customer complaints. It’s true. There were tears and shaking hands and a quivering voice. It was awful! However, after implementing these tips and making it my mission to really value the customer in every good and bad experience, I found that it is so much easier to resolve conflict and issues than it used to be. That sinking feeling doesn’t happen anymore. I stopped making it about me and I learned how to make it about the customer.
And you can too.