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A customer’s complaint may be the best gift you’ll ever receive

The most common thing to do is to ignore customer complaints or argue about them. Follow these 10 steps instead.

1. Thank the customer.
Instead of focusing on a solution, start by thanking the customer for telling you about his problem. His complaint is a GIFT. He's giving you valuable information. He's giving you a free consulting service, telling you how you can improve. He's even giving you a chance to correct his problem so he can keep doing business with you.

2. Explain your appreciation.
Explain how the complaint will help you improve your service. Say something like, "I'm glad to hear about this because it tells me we need to streamline our shipping procedures."

3. Listen to the customer's story and complaint.

Your customer wants to tell her story. Ask questions to determine the scope of the problem. Repeat the information to make sure you understand what the customer perceives as the problem. You may be tempted to skip the long or emotional story. Don't do it. If you don't listen, she'll find dozens of other people who will. You can't afford that kind of negative publicity.

4. Refrain from argument.
Your customer may be angry and say things that are unfair or untrue. But when he's upset, he wants you to listen ... not tell him why he's wrong. If you let the customer tell his story and express his emotions, there's a better chance he'll calm down and listen.

5. Show you're sorry.
Let the customer know you're sorry there is a problem. As the editors of "The Customer Services Rep's Emergency Survival Guide" say, "You are not admitting error, but simply letting the customer know you regret the situation, no matter what the reason is or where the fault lies."

6. Exhibit some empathy.
Once you've calmed the customer, let him know you understand how he must feel. Say something like, "That must have been so disappointing for you. I can see how that defective part made it impossible for you to finish your work."

7. Find out what the customer wants.
Ask your customer what will meet his needs. At times, customers only want to let you know something happened and how they were inconvenienced. They don't necessarily want anything special from you. But if your customer wants something more, find out what it is. Don't guess. ASK.

8. Explain what you can do.
Do it immediately. If you have to involve someone with more authority, get that person involved. Tell your customer you're going to do whatever you can to make things right. There's ALWAYS something you can do. Your customer knows that. Don't say, "There's nothing I can do." Don't get into an explanation of why you can't do something. It will only add fuel to the customer's anger.

9. Take action.
Once a resolution has been decided upon, set a course of action that is agreeable to your customer. Be specific as to who will do what by when.

10. Check back with the customer.
If you really want to stand out in your customer's mind, check back to make sure he was satisfied with how his problem was handled. And thank your customer for giving you the chance to make things right.

Pick the steps you most need to improve. Write those steps on a card and put the card next to your telephone. The next time a customer calls to complain, look at the card to remind yourself to practice those steps.

Condensed and reprinted with permission from Dr. Alan Zimmerman's 'Tuesday Tip.' As a best-selling author and Hall of Fame professional speaker, Zimmerman has worked with more than a million people, helping them become more effective communicators on and off the job. To receive a FREE, subscription to his 'Tuesday Tip' articles, go to http://www.DrZimmerman.com. Or contact him at 20550 Lake Ridge Drive, Prior Lake, MN 55372.



What a great topic. Customer service is such a lost art. I see it everyday. So easy to give up. All 10 steps are so true. Especially number 8. There is ALWAYS 'something' you can do. Sometimes that simply is an explanation of circumstances. "Why are prices so high these days?" "Why can't this be made a top priority to get done?" "How come you guys are always out of what I want?" Such questions as these or similar you may be able to diffuse if properly explained to the customer. They may not have the time to hear it, nor even 'listen' as you speak. If they truly care about what they are complaining about, and you can give them just cause as to why the predicament/situation exists, that may be enough satisfaction to appease them.

I always thought the best words you could hear from a customer were 'Thank you', and although those are still great to hear, a business really looks for the customer to follow that up with "I'll be back again soon."

Thanks again for a great post. I've printed it off to keep at arm's reach.