Complaints are never fun, but once you know how to respond to customer complaints in a constructive way, they can be a lot less stressful.
No one enjoys getting complaints about their business. It doesn’t matter if you run a commercial cleaning company or a lemonade stand; complaints feel like a reflection of your work. Still, complaints happen. There’s no way to avoid them. However, if you know how to respond to customer complaints the right way, you and your customer can both walk away feeling good about the encounter.
That might seem like a lofty statement, but stick with me here. If you think about it, the majority of the complaints you get most likely come from a communication issue. Your customer expects you to do something that you didn’t discuss during your walk-through. They don’t understand part of their invoice. Or someone on your team read the checklist incorrectly and missed one of their duties.
These are all communication issues. That doesn’t make them any less legitimate, but it can take some of the stress out of trying to resolve them. Of course, some customer complaints come from much larger issues, and can have a significant impact on your business. Even in these cases, though, knowing how to respond to customer complaints calmly and sincerely can minimize much of the damage.
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How to respond to customer complaints and find solutions that make everyone whole
The first step in determining how to respond to customer complaints is to understand that no matter how serious or ridiculous they may seem, you need to respond. When you ignore customer complaints, the energy from those complaints grows exponentially.
In fact, for online reviews, both positive and negative, it’s a good habit to respond as much as possible. Thank people for the good reviews; for the bad reviews, take responsibility and apologize. Even if the problem isn’t your fault, something as simple as “I’m sorry we didn’t provide the experience you expected,” goes a long way in alleviating frustration.
Offer to get in touch to resolve the issue, if possible. Simply “listening” and responding calmly can move things back in your favor. But perhaps more importantly, a thoughtful, considerate reply can win over other potential customers who read your reviews. Regularly responding to reviews shows that your business values your customers and their experience with your service.
What about customer complaints that come to you through an email, phone call, or in person? Here are some ideas to help you consider how to respond to customer complaints in a productive way.
1. Stay positive. The language we use has a strong influence on our interactions, whether we realize it or not. As an example, you can approach your customer and ask, “What’s the problem?” While you likely mean well and want to figure out what the problem is so you can work through it, the language feels defensive. By contrast, “How can I help you?” feels more service-oriented. It’s an inviting and approachable question.
2. Be aware of body language. For in-person customer complaints, pay attention to your body language. Crossing your arms, frowning, tapping your foot, or turning away from the customer can all seem confrontational. Again, you may not mean it that way, and your customer might not consciously notice, but deep in our subconscious, the brain is perceiving this as unwelcoming. Focus on the person you’re speaking with, occasionally nod your head to indicate that you’re listening and trying to understand, and keep your body language relaxed, with your hands and arms open and welcoming.
3. Repeat the complaint back to them. If you only take away one suggestion here for how to respond to customer complaints, make it this one. When you repeat back what the customer says to you, it becomes clear to them that you are paying attention and care about their concern. That alone can lower the stress and frustration that often comes with complaints. Beyond that, however, this ensures both of you have the same understanding of the issue. You don’t have to repeat the complaint word for word, of course. Let’s say the customer comes to you with a complaint about their bill. They tell you they were overcharged and don’t want to pay for work they didn’t agree to. Your response could be, “Let me make sure I understand you correctly. Your bill is higher than you expected and there may be charges on there for work that you weren’t planning on. Is that right?” This immediately gives the impression that you are in their corner and want to resolve the issue.
4. Invite them to explore the issue with you. While some customers will tell you to just fix the problem, most will want the chance to tell their “side” of the story. They aren’t out to cheat you or get a free service; they want a fair deal. Something like, “Okay, let’s look at the bill together and see what’s going on,” allows your customer to discuss their expectations, and gives you a chance to go over the bill with them. It makes you a team trying to solve a problem together. And although we’re using a bill as an example here, the same approach works for an inspection, the type of cleaning products you use, the frequency of cleaning, and so on.
5. Fix it if you can. This is both the most obvious and perhaps most difficult part of responding to customer complaints. There are plenty of issues that you can fix, but some are beyond your ability to deal with. Sometimes the best you can do is to be open and honest with the customer and see if there’s a workaround.
You won’t have a positive outcome with every customer complaint. However, with a few adjustments and some effort, you might be surprised how many turn into something good for everyone.
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