One of the difficult things to accept about running a business is that complaints are an inevitable part of business – after all, it is impossible to please everyone all the time.
Instead of looking at complaints negatively and feeling as though the customer is going out of their way to destroy the business or attack you personally, look at is as a way to improve the business. It’s a simple change in mindset but one that can make a world of difference.
Customers who take the time to make a complaint are doing a business a favour. These customers care enough about your business that they want to communicate their concerns with you and also believe that you’re in a position to solve the problem.
Here are 7 ways customer complaints can benefit you and your business:
- Customer complaints highlight key areas where your product needs improving, your systems need updating or your service needs upgrading.
- Customer complaints can identify staff members who need more training, a refresher course, or closer supervision and helps you identify the need to introduce better business policies and procedures.
- Complaints help motivate and drive staff to improve the work and therefore improve the service culture at the business.
- The things customers complain about may present new business opportunities for increasing revenue, reducing operational costs, solving problems and increasing value.
- Customer complaints (particularly those along the lines of “company A” does it this way) can provide you with valuable competitive information and letting you know what others are doing that you are not doing (yet).
- You learn which customers are willing to speak up and that helps you better understand the business’ customers. These customers can (and should) be invited to participate in customer focus groups, surveys, panels, beta-tests, onsite visits and other research activities.
- Most upset customers simply walk away and then complain about you to their friends, colleagues, acquaintances and family members. Those who take the time to let you know are giving you another chance!
On WOMO, we’ve seen many times where negative feedback handled properly, has led to the business rectifying a major problem and winning over a customer for life.
Customers complaints are inevitable (even for the best businesses), so look at the positives and how the business can benefit from them! Check out our article on 4 Steps To Manage Customer Complaints in Heat of the Moment, but make sure that your business has simple and effective policies in places to handle customer complaints.
It might come as a surprise for some businesses to hear that when it comes to choosing a business, customers look for more than the cheapest price. In a recent survey conducted by Word Of Mouth Online, we asked our members to comment on the customer service they receive from Australian businesses. Based on these responses, we’ve come up with the Top 5 things customers want from a business:
1. Please…. Listen to us
Taking the time to engage and speak to the customer goes a long way and might be better than a quick sale. One WOMO user goes on to say:
“I may not buy something the first time I visit your business, but if you treat me with politeness and respect then I’ll remember you when I DO need something, and I’ll come back.”
When customers are describing their problem or explaining what they’re looking for, they can immediately sense when somebody is just waiting for a break in the conversation so they can start their sales pitch. To really listen to the needs and wants of the customer, you must briefly forget your goals and think about the customer. If you can solve their problem, then you’ve reached your goals.
2. Value our loyalty
Remember, it cost five times more to acquire a new customer than it does to retain an existing one, so make sure you remember your best customers – those are the people who have helped you get to where you are right now!
Showing loyalty to your customers doesn’t have to be a big thing. It might be inviting them to try new products or something as simple as sending them a personalised message thanking them for their support. For customers who have left you a review, reply publicly and show them how grateful you are for their support!
3. Make it easy for us to contact you
Customers understand that if you’re a sole trader or have a small team, it might be hard for them to reach you the first time round. If people leave messages, make sure you call back within a reasonable amount of time – within 24 hours at the most (just don’t make promises you can’t keep!) Try to offer multiple ways to ways for them to contact you – by phone, email, social media, or live chat.
4. We want to deal with friendly staff
An overwhelming number of WOMO users highlight poor staff attitude as a big turn off when choosing a business. There is nothing more discouraging than speaking to a staff member that clearly doesn’t want to be there. Keep in mind, the problem can be easily resolved by the customer – they’ll just go to one of your competitors.
“You can have the best business or product but if your staff are horrible or miserable they generally ruin it for your customers.”
5. Be accountable and apologise for mistakes
Make sure the business has set up clear and easy to understand policies on how to manage customer complaints. Remember “Customer Service is not a Department, it is everyone’s job”, so all staff need to know how to manage complaints. Take responsibility for any problems a customer has and focus on resolving the problem. As one WOMO user says:
“We are all human so mistakes are inevitable, but if the owner/manager owns up to it and genuinely apologises and commits to addressing it, the chances of it happening again are reduced (eg. improving processes, improving training etc)…”
When it comes down to it, there’s one thing that keeps a business running, it’s the customers. If you can provide customers with what they want and put them first, as Krock said, “Success will be yours!”
In a recent survey conducted by Word Of Mouth Online, we asked our members to comment on the customer service they receive from Australian businesses. An overwhelming number of respondents highlight the attitude and demeanour of staff members as a factor on whether they will use the business again.
One member goes on to say:
“A smile goes a long way, nothing bugs me more than a rude or unhappy staff member. I get we all have bad days but some staff members really can ruin the whole experience.”
Another believes that “the biggest turn off for a customer is dealing with staff members who quite obviously don’t give a damn. Customers that visit stores, obviously are choosing not to use the online service that is readily available, and are actively choosing customer service over cheaper prices. However, the attitude of staff members (many of whom are usually “too busy” gossiping with other staff, or “pretending to be busy”) that regard you as a “nuisance” makes you wonder why you bothered in the first place!”
But it’s not just rude and unpleasant staff members that customers find off-putting. Many find the “lack of product knowledge is a big turn off”, especially since customers can find most of the information they want online, with over 78% of all purchases starting with an online search.
“Product knowledge is a vital selling point, as I always do a lot of research to understand what I am purchasing is what I’m am looking for or how does it works, or interacts with other products that I already have at home,” says a WOMO reviewer.
So if the success of your business is dependent on your staff members, what should you do? A WOMO reviewer puts it candidly:
“Pay peanuts, get monkeys [sic]. Look after your staff and train them well. Hire for ability, not looks or how cheap they are. Well treated staff work harder because they care about what they’re doing”.
Good customer service all comes down to the person providing it and businesses need to ensure that the staff members aren’t just selling a product or service, but an experience with the business. Businesses need to look at building a culture based on providing good customer service and focus on rewarding staff based on customer service outcomes. Providing feedback on how staff can improve, but also commending them when they’ve done good work builds their confidence, and staff who are encouraged by your support will look to work harder. When a business gets a new positive review, congratulate your team for making that happen! If someone was named in the review because of the service they provided to customer, reward them!
“Customer service goes hand in hand with treating your staff well. If someone has [sic] been crapped on at work and shouted at to get the job done, they will definitely [sic] pass it on to the customer e.g. bad service, bad manners.”
When it comes to setting a benchmark for customer service, managers and owners need to lead from the front and illustrate to their staff how to build relationships and engage with their customers. Sometimes the best training for staff is to lead by example, and really demonstrate that customer service is the number one priority.
Managing customer complaints can be extremely challenging (that may just be the under-statement of the year). Unless you want to dig yourself in deeper, there are several things that you definitely should NOT say to customers. It’s easy to find yourself uttering something which will only worsen the situation, so take our advise and don’t do this.
Here are 5 things NOT to say to customers:
1. “You’re wrong”
It’s true, the customer is not always right, sometimes, they are clearly wrong. That being said, you should never tell them that they’re wrong – it will only escalate the situation.
Instead say: “I’m really sorry you feel that way” or “I’m sorry, it’s certainly not our usual way of operating to do that here” and try resolving the issue while not telling them explicitly that they’re wrong.
2. “It’s not our fault”
Similar to the first point, the customer is not always right but that doesn’t mean the business are not able to solve the customers problem. Telling them that it’s not the business’ fault is little comfort to them and instead will make them feel that if it’s not your fault, then it’s their fault.
Instead say: “What seems to have happened is…. but I’ll see if we can resolve the situation by…” and move on from who’s at fault and focus on providing a solution.
3. “There’s nothing I can do. It’s out of my hands”
Even if that is true, businesses should never say this to a customer because it shuts down discussion. You’re essentially telling the customer that you’re finished and that there is no amendable solution.
What’s important to realise is that you may be finished with the customer, but they’re not done with you. An angry customer doesn’t stop feeling angry when you tell them there’s nothing you can do. Their problem still exists. The likely outcome is that they will leave feeling disgruntled and even more annoyed then when they first contacted the business. They then talk to others, and given that most consumers are now internet-savvy, they share their experiences online too.
Instead say: “I wish I could be more help, but what I can do in this situation is…”; again focus on providing a solution (or at least demonstrating that you’ll go out of your way to help this customer).
4. “I don’t know”
Fair enough, not everyone in a business is going to know everything. That being said, someone in the business should be able to answer the customer’s question. Simply saying that you don’t know isn’t an adequate answer – find someone who does know (or look it up – that’s what Google is for!).
Instead say: “I’m not sure, but I’ll find out for you.”
5. “It’s [someone or something else]’s fault”
Passing on the blame to someone else or another department in the business is not going to help the customer. The customer isn’t going to feel any better that they know it’s not specifically your fault, they just want someone to help them and own the problem.
Instead say: “It sounds like you’ve been given the run around” or “I think the best way forward is…” or even better, “I will personally take this on and ensure that it gets rectified.”
When you’re looking for easy tips on how to provide good customer service, sometimes knowing what not to say is sometimes just as important as knowing what to say.
Managing customer complaints and problems is part of being in business. At some point, everyone has to deal with an unhappy customer (yes, even the best businesses). The challenge is to figure out how to handle the situation in a way that leaves the customer thinking you operate a fantastic business, even though they’ve experienced a problem that might have slipped through. A well managed complaint can potentially turn a lost sale into a loyal, lifetime customer.
We’ve come up with four easy steps on how to effectively deal with customers complaints in the heat of the moment.
- Listen carefully
Firstly, don’t get defensive, but instead try to listen and really understand the customer’s point of view. Remember that the customer is not attacking you personally; they have a problem and they’re upset (and this can manifest in different ways in different people!). Realise that the customer is complaining because they hope that you can help solve their problem. Repeat back what you hear and show that you’ve listened.
- Ask questions in a concerned and empathetic manner
The more information you can get from the customer, the better you will understand their perspective. Ask questions and establish the details and facts of the complaint. Remember, your goal is to solve the problem as best you can. The customer needs to feel like you’re on their side and that you empathise with their situation.
- Apologise and don’t play the blame game
Be gracious, keep your cool and remember, it doesn’t really matter whose fault it is. Don’t blame another person or department and don’t put the blame back onto the customer (although they may have played a role in the problem). Just say, “I’m so sorry about that”. The great thing about the simple act of apologising is that when they sense that you are sincerely sorry, it usually diffuses the situation.
- Offer to make amends and solve the problem then and there
Research shows that customers prefer the person that they are speaking with to instantly solve their problem. When complaints are passed up the chain of command, they become more expensive to handle and this only adds to the customers’ frustration. Sometimes the best way to handle a complaint is to compensate the customer for a bad experience. This could be in the form of a refund, a free service, free product, or some type of special treatment on their next visit. There are many examples where, for a very small cost, a business has managed to turn a bad situation into a great one. Front line staff should know what they are able to offer and the business culture should be focussed on customer satisfaction. (When evaluating the cost of compensation, keep in mind the potential lifetime value of the customer, as well as the word-of-mouth that a happy customer or unhappy customer can generate.)
Customer complaints are nothing to be ashamed of, as all businesses experience problems from time to time. What matters is how the business responds when something does go wrong. Remember, the greatest asset of any business is its customers and a complaint is handled effectively, the customer can end up being a passionate advocate for your business and brand.
Starting and growing a thriving business is definitely not easy… BUT the recipe is simple.
By getting the of fundamentals right (providing a great service and encouraging customers to review you online), small businesses can essentially forget about needing to do sales and marketing – because your customers do this for you!
This leaves you free to focus on great service delivery. Which means that your customers will be even happier.
When customers review you online, they are essentially building your online reputation while also improving your SEO (search engine optimisation). This means that more people that are searching online for a business like yours will find YOUR business. And when they click for details, they’ll see all of your customers saying glowing things about you. Recommendations from other people are the most convincing type of promotion you can do.
Regular readers here will have seen many case studies showing a wide range of businesses using customer reviews to help them get found online, get trusted and generate more revenue. But now studies from two prestigious universities have gone to the trouble to prove the connection between reviews and business success.
The first study is from Harvard Business School and looks at the positive correlation between online ratings and revenues (based on a large sample of restaurants in Seattle, US).
This study found that;
“A one-star increase in ratings leads to a 5-9% increase in revenue.”
They also found that this effect is much more pronounced for small, independent businesses (rather than large chains). This makes sense as if you think of an extreme example like McDonalds, everyone knows what to expect from any McDonalds store and so online reviews are less important. In contrast, the independent burger place down the road has less of a brand reputation so their online reviews make a huge difference.
The second study is from UC Berkeley and looks at the effects of restaurant ratings on restaurant bookings in San Francisco. This study found that;
“An extra half-star rating causes restaurants to be fully booked 19-27% more often.”
The variation largely depended on how much other information was available about the restaurant – for businesses where not much other information existed online, the extra half-star rating caused them to sell out 27% more frequently (than similar restaurants with a half star lower rating).
Wow! That’s really significant! If there’s ever been any doubt about the relationship between word of mouth online reviews and consumer purchasing decisions, these two studies show that there is a definitive causality.
Yes, great customer service increases patronage, but great customer service together with great online reviews, brings even more patronage and revenues.