10 tips for handling customer complaints

Author of new book says effectively responding to customer complaints can help improve a business


One of most important, but often overlooked aspects of any business is handling complaints from customers. Of course, there are many different routes that businesses in a variety of industries have taken with regards to dealing with these complaints over the years – from outsourcing customer service to overseas call centers or transferring customers through a maze of corporate departments to being as proactive as possible by helping customers work through their problem step-by-step or sending technicians out as quickly as possible.

Being a business that relies heavily on recurring monthly revenue (RMR), responding to customer complaints is one of the most important responsibilities of companies involved in the alarm industry. Whether it’s fixing a faulty panel or helping users understand the ins-and-outs of their systems, there are a myriad of issues that alarm companies have to address with their customers every day.

Rather than treat customer complaints as a mere irritant, however, Ron Kaufman, author of the new book, "Uplifting Service: The Proven Path to Delighting Your Customers, Colleagues, and Everyone Else You Meet," says that companies can use them to improve their overall business.

"For every person who actually comes to complain to you, there is a quantum number who won’t come to you," said Kaufman in a statement. "They’re the ones who go off and tell somebody else, complain about you online, and take their business elsewhere. Let’s say one out of 100 of your customers actually comes to you with their complaint. Shouldn’t you really value that person times 100? Because they’re representing all the other people who never came to you, you should be happy—or if not happy, at least very, very appreciative—when someone actually takes the time to give you a second chance."

Here are 10 tips from Kaufman for effectively handling customer complaints:

  • Thank them for their complaint. According to Kaufman, companies should keep in mind that the customer didn’t have to come to their business at all and could have chosen a competitor instead.
  • Don’t be defensive. Though they can exaggerate situations and may sometimes even lie, Kaufman says that getting defensive will only make the situation worse. You may not have to agree with them, but he says that you should at least hear them out.
  • Acknowledge what’s important to them. Kaufman teaches that service providers must find a complaining customer’s value dimension (or what’s important to them). Even if you think the customer’s complaint is unfair, there is something they value that your company didn’t deliver on.
  • Use judo, not boxing. In boxing, you go right after your opponent, trying to punch him to the ground. In judo, you work with someone else’s motions to create a desired result. By showing customers that you understand where they’re coming from and that you’re both on the same side, Kaufman says that you can work with them to get the issue resolved.
  • Apologize once, upfront. Every service provider knows that the customer is not always right. But the customer is always the customer and this will allow them to see that you empathize with their problem.
  • Explain the company’s desire to improve. When you understand what the customer values, show them things your company does that helps you perform well in that area.
  • Educate your customer. Part of hearing the customer out is answering any questions they ask about their specific situation. Provide additional, useful information.
  • Contain the problem. Let’s say a family is at a crowded theme park on a hot day. The youngest child in the group starts to have an all-out meltdown. Suddenly, a theme park staff member sweeps onto the scene and whisks the family into a special room. Inside, they find an air conditioned room with water and other beverages, an ice cream machine, a bathroom, a comfortable sitting area, etc. The only thing missing in the room is any connection to the theme park’s brand. That’s because this room is used to isolate customers from the brand until they’re all—parents and children—having a more pleasurable experience. The room is also being used to isolate the unhappy family from the families outside the room who are enjoying their day at the theme park. And finally, they’re being isolated from some park staff who may not be as well-prepared as the staff member who brought the family to the room to handle these sticky situations.
  • Recover. Show the customer you care about them, even if you feel the company did everything right, by making them an offer. Companies worry that they’ll get taken advantage of if they give vouchers, discounts, or freebies as part of their service recovery, but the reality is that almost never happens.
  • Give serial complainers an out. Some people just love to complain. These kinds of customers complain, not so that they can become satisfied, but because they are never satisfied. With serial complainers, you must limit your liability and isolate them from your brand.
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