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Customer Complaints: Five Easy Steps To Turn Conflict Into A Competitive Edge

If your customers, whether external or internal, don’t like how you respond to their complaints, you stand to lose business and/or productivity. Here’s five easy steps you can take to turn conflicts with your customers into a competitive advantage to your organization.

When your customers think you haven’t delivered what they expected, it’s important to manage your response for the best outcome. If your internal customers get angry with you the larger organization is likely to suffer lower productivity, or they might go to the big boss and you end up in the dog house. With external customers you can lose business or get negative advertising by word of mouth. Here’s how you can prevent this from happening.

Step 1

When the complaint comes, resist the temptation to get defensive. It’s a natural reaction, especially when the customer is frustrated, angry and making accusations. Instead, thank them for bringing it to your attention and restate their complaint to make sure you understand it from their point of view. It helps to ask them if that is what they are saying. Once they agree you’ve got it, go on to the next step.

Step 2

Now you’ve got to ask questions. When, where, what, and how did this problem arise? What was the sequence of events? What have they already tried in terms of solutions? The more you know, the more satisfactory your response will be. Above all, don’t assume you know what went wrong, even if you’ve heard similar stories before. Customers don’t like to be treated like they’re one of the anonymous herd. Find out what’s unique to their situation.

Step 3

The next trap you can fall into is to immediately tell the customer what they have to do to resolve the problem. Do you want this person as a long term customer? Then take responsibility for your side of the issue first. At the very least express regret that they’ve had a negative experience. Does it appear that something about your business could be improved? Would that tend to prevent the problem from recurring? Then say so. This will tell the customer that you are serious about resolving the problem. Now you can talk to them about steps they can take to help resolve the issue, or could take in the future to prevent it from happening.

Step 4

When it seems you and your customer have agreed on a resolution, repeat it. Ask them if the two of you are in agreement. The assumption that you are can lead to further frustration and misunderstanding down the road. In addition, this will help cement in your mind what you have agreed to do and by when.

Step 5

Finally, Thank your customer for bringing up the problem. They have done you a favor in at least three ways. They’ve helped you to keep them as a satisfied customer. They’ll probably give you positive word of mouth advertising. They have most certainly given you the opportunity to improve your business for future customers.

The bottom line is what grows your business. Satisfied customers are one of your key assets. They will come back, provide you with referrals and help you keep your business on the cutting edge. When something goes wrong, you can keep their loyalty by making sure you’ve heard the problem from their point of view, asking good questions, taking responsibility for your side first, checking for agreement on a solution and thanking them for bringing the problem to your attention.


Sterling Newberry

Sterling Newberry is a Certified Professional Facilitator by the International Association of Facilitators, and has a BA in Sociology from Dickinson College, and a Graduate Certificate in Conflict Resolution from John F. Kennedy University. He believes that organizations are living organisms, that each person plays a vital role in the… MORE >

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