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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Payne

Complaints should be welcomed


…in the same way you would welcome a five-star review. In fact, see them as a chance to get an easy slam dunk 6-star review. This may sound alien to some. Who wants a business where a customer might not be happy, where mistakes are being made, where you have to pick up the phone and have someone moaning at you about how unhappy they are? I agree on the face of it, it feels counter intuitive, but they are amazing opportunities that only make your business stronger.

First of all, if the customer is the most important part of your business, and if all your efforts and processes (assuming you have some) have been tailored to give them the best experience you can, why would you not want to know what they are not satisfied with? No process is perfect; hence we have discussed in other posts about trying to break and improve them constantly, but that's what your customers do for you free of charge. They are a free resource, testing the robustness of each process, each member of staff, each piece of training, yet when they want to feedback to the business what they have found, they get ignored. Businesses pay other businesses and consultants to do this, and willingly accept their feedback. Why this crazy anomaly when the customer is far more qualified? So many businesses though regard them as a pain in the backside, moaners, people who expect too much and have got it wrong. A cultural malaise exists that allows a everyone from top to bottom believe that they can’t have made a mistake, denial takes over. Dealing with it then become a chore, people put off calling them, it snowballs, suddenly there is talk about the Ombudsman, a long email, and then they are no longer a customer anymore. The scary statistic from Harvard University studies though show that only 1 in 25 customers will complain to you. The other 24 just suffer in silence and go and use someone else. You need to be talking to your customers.

So, lets change the language. Instinctively, no one likes the feel of the word complaint or criticism or problem. Let’s use mystery shopper, feedback and challenge. If Mr Payne rang up and said he was a mystery shopper, he had some feedback for you that might help you better deal with the challenges you have in your business, a lot more people would willingly take that call immediately and thank them for it. That is all your customers are doing, very few expect or require financial compensation, very few scream and shout. Most are calm. Most are cries for help to get a matter resolved, put right, because in their view, something in the business broke. They are a huge opportunity for businesses to resolve failures in process and training, make action plans to resolve so the standard for the next customer is better, they are doing you a favour. Grasp these opportunities, they are gold dust.

That however is not the only or greatest opportunity that comes from feedback from our mystery shoppers. One learned mentor of mine bottled the concept for me quite nicely and helped me many years ago completely shift my mindset on this topic. A customer whose complaint is dealt with satisfactorily and quickly, becomes a customer for life. I call them your brand ambassadors. They are more valuable to the business than the majority of your customers who have never complained at all.

Let me illustrate. Most customers hate that call more than you. Very few people like complaining, its uncomfortable. I don’t like it. I assume the business will be protective, resist, I will be passed from pillar to post, will have to repeat myself, it will take time I don’t have, requests to put in writing etc. A great many are like that, but when they are dealt with as I suggest then suddenly the positive fall out for the customer and you is stratospheric, I exaggerate not one bit.

I had the need to buy quite a specialist bit of hose this year, very long with some particular capabilities. No garden centres stocked what I wanted; it was going to be an online order. I found what I wanted at Hayes Garden World in the Lakes (see what I am doing here? - brand ambassador). It was a big bit of kit, shipping was expensive, it arrived next day, but on removing the shipping packaging I saw the manufacturers packing was damaged, so was the housing of the hose. I was highly irritated, not because the mistake happened, not at all, it was simply because I feared now having to waste 3-4 hours of my life fighting Hayes to resolve the matter. That was my default expectation, pretty low indeed.

I called and gave a subject heading on what had happened. I was greeted by a friendly lady who told me I didn’t need to be transferred, she would be able to help me. I explained in more detail precisely what had transpired. Silence from her other than the occasional acknowledgement to reassure me she was still there and listening. When I paused for long enough, she asked if she could confirm her understanding of what I had told her and gave me a very thorough review of my explanation. She then apologised and asked me how I would like to see the matter resolved. I was taken aback, no one has ever asked me that before. I suggested a complete replacement, as I know that retailers generally didn’t like taking parts our of boxes. I cringed however as I knew we would be getting onto the subject of who would be paying for the shipping, or maybe they wanted some evidence of the damage before they made their excuses..

Before I had time to dwell on that, she asked if I was around the following day, would 6pm suit me as she was going to arrange a dedicated slot with a courier at their expense to collect the equipment as well as delivering a replacement, but only after she has first checked the item herself as it leaves the warehouse to make sure lightning didn’t strike twice. Would that be agreeable to me? Of course, I said, almost speechless, I got an email confirmation 10 minutes later. The following day, 6pm came and went, the swap went smoothly. I was delighted. I got a call the next morning to follow up to check I was satisfied. I thanked her profusely and quizzed her in detail about how they are instructed to deal with calls like mine. She explained the process and basically the customer is always right, replacements are automatic no questions asked, and they make sure it is dealt with as quickly as possible. The alternative brand damage is clearly too costly, and they recognised the value in making me a flagbearer for their business. Do you know how many people I have told that story to? I have made them £000s in the last 6 months. They love complaints at Hayes.

Complaint handling is only about one thing - exceeding expectations, and you don’t have to aim very high as most customers come from a very low starting point. They all assume your response will be inadequate. First you need to know what theirs is. Qualify what they expect and deliver. I would approach them as follows:

1. Deal with them immediately - very few customers expect that so that's easy to exceed.

2. Listen, don’t interrupt, understand, qualify if required, summarise.

3. Immediately apologise that they feel that way - that goes a long way and most people again don't expect it.

4. Ask how you can resolve the matter. Confirm your proposed solution, get agreement, confirm in writing

5. Follow up once complete - resolved to their satisfaction?

That is why they are such amazing opportunities that should be enthusiastically grasped by a business. However, change comes from a cultural shift in leadership at the top though, it is not about re publishing your complaints procedure, job done. Most procedural change has to have a cultural undertone otherwise it is a complete waste of time, no more than lip service. This is what we do as a business, these are our standards, our red lines, ones we won’t compromise on, and if you work here this is how we roll. Examples have to be set from the top, belief set in, so everyone understands that is the norm. My Hayes lady wasn’t reading from a process manual, she knew it was a core value of the business, she believed, you could tell in the way she handled the call.

Imagine a culture where a call comes into the business and the receptionist says, "Mr Payne on line 2, wants to make a complaint", and everyone in the office stuck their hand enthusiastically in the air and said they wanted to deal with it, as if it were a hot viewing.

Wow, what a business that would be.


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