From Complaints to Compliments: Turn Disgruntled Customers into Fans
There are plenty of good suggestions on how companies can impress their customers. However, nobody’s perfect. Mistakes and misunderstandings will always happen, and customers can become annoyed. Here, we explain how customer consultants can best proceed in such cases so that they not only defuse the situation, but also turn a complaint into a delightful customer experience.
Whether it’s a damaged suitcase after a holiday, a missing credit entry, or any other reason for a customer complaint: there are strategies to deal with all these situations correctly. The first key step is to understand the reason for the grievance. Two levels in human consciousness play an important part in this: the rational level, or reason, and the emotional level, which is linked to the subconscious.
Whenever a customer finds themselves in a situation in which they haven’t received what they expected, a positive “deviation” will result in great satisfaction, but a negative one will get them annoyed. Let’s take the damaged suitcase as an example. And let’s say that the customer’s initial complaint at the airport was dismissed with a curt reference to the airline company’s GTCs. The customer’s subconscious receives this information and becomes very active. They then act purely from gut feeling. In this case, the customer’s emotional level is dominant over the rational level.
Four steps from complaint to compliment
How should a customer consultant proceed, if this customer turns their anger towards the airline’s hotline? Jürgen Schultze, Head of Communication Training at Arvato CRM Solutions, gives four consecutive steps:
To begin with, respond to the customer on an emotional level and meet them there. You must show that you understand their infuriation. You should also start by listening to the customer and letting them finish speaking. “That way I show that I appreciate what they are saying and that I’m taking them seriously,” explains Jürgen Schultze. “Doing this does not add anything to clarifying the circumstances, but it takes the confrontation down a level and eases the situation.”
Secondly, take responsibility. The customer consultant does this by saying the following: “I shall have a look at the issue and see to it myself.” It is important to say: “I”, not “we”! For the customer, this doesn’t just mean that they are moving closer towards a solution for their issue. It also means that they have, in a way, handed the matter over to the customer consultant.
Next, ask more questions to better understand the circumstances. How severely is the suitcase damaged? Was the suitcase damaged on the outward journey, which might then have led to further problems on a round trip? Such questions will help find possible solutions.
Finally, suggest a solution and demonstrate to what extent the customer will benefit should they decide to agree to your proposal.“This approach generally leads to the client leaving the conversation satisfied and often even impressed,” says Schultze. “Because their issue was taken seriously and they felt they were taken care of.” In this way, customer consultants can use a complaint to promote their company.
The approach for written complaints is essentially the same. For example, it is recommended that you compose a personal and freely written response instead of using a template text. “Only in few cases are these text templates relevant to customer issues. An authentic written reply makes a much more positive impression.” In addition to responding to the content of the customer’s complaint, you should also adjust your style of writing. If the customer expresses themselves in a casual manner, then the reply may also be worded casually, within certain limits. If the customer’s style of writing is formal, you should also adapt your reply accordingly.
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Service team requirements
Handling complaints is stressful work. Customer consultants therefore need plenty of composure. They must be able to simply accept it when customers are loud. “It helps if the consultant remembers that they are just the outlet at that moment and that they shouldn’t take it personally. Of course, the customer has every right to complain about mistakes,” says Schultze. Furthermore, it is important to understand that the customer, regardless of how angry they are, is at this moment still looking for a dialogue with the company, so we should use that opportunity.
How should a consultant handle personal insults or unreasonable demands? “No one should have to take abuse from a customer,” emphasises the communications expert. “In such cases, you should draw the line in a calm manner.” For instance, you could do that by making the customer an offer: “One suggestion would be: There are now two possibilities: You can either carry on the conversation in that tone and I shall end it or we can speak at a normal level and I shall look for a solution for you. What would you prefer?” Lines should also be drawn when unreasonable demands are made. In this case, quick-wittedness and a cheeky wink may help make it clear to the customer that they are exaggerating.
But whatever the reason for the customer complaint: “It is not always about finding the perfect solution for the customer,” explains Schultze. “There often isn’t one. The crucial point is to handle the matter and the person correctly: never forget that they’re human!”