Marita Bon Article

Marita Bon Article
Picture of Marita BonMarita Bon, executive editor and co-owner of Bon's Eye Marketing, has more than 23 years of business, news and corporate writing experience. The founding editor of Wilma!, Wilmington, N.C.'s only women's magazine, she has contributed extensively to area newspapers and business journals.

Solid Customer Complaint Strategies Make for Long-Term Loyalty

Solid Customer Complaint Strategies Make for Long-Term Loyalty

Nothing can ruin your day like unhappy customers, especially if you haven’t solved their problems by the time they walk out the door. In fact, research shows that companies nationwide bleed billions of dollars annually due to complaints. And for the small business owner, just one unsatisfied patron can mean revenue loss and a scarred reputation.

Even so, complaints don’t have to blindside you. In our company, we put customer service guidelines into writing and insist that employees observe them, allowing us to sidestep a slew of problems before they start. When complaints do happen, the same rules apply. We utilize a formal strategy, conduct staff training and follow the plan to the letter.

The points listed here are central to our complaint protocol, but you can tweak them to dovetail with your specific business. To hold on to those cranky customers, you must be:

  • Easy to reach. An unhappy customer should be able to get in touch easily with someone that can help them. During business hours, have a real person, as opposed to a recording, answer the telephone, with quick routing to the appropriate department. On your website, provide a contact form where users can file complaints.
  • Prompt. Whether a complaint comes in person or via phone, email, website or letter, attend to the problem as soon as possible. When delay is inevitable – for instance, the replacement of an item you don’t stock – be honest with your customer about the glitch. Never leave calls or emails unanswered.
  • Courteous. Difficult though it is to remain pleasant while someone’s carping at you, a polite attitude goes a long way toward retaining disgruntled customers. An apology, a “thank you” or a few understanding words can change the entire direction of the conversation. Most importantly, reassure your unhappy patron that you will do what must be done you to rectify matters, and make sure you mean it.
  • Open. Listen closely, allowing your customer to describe the problem in detail. Resist the temptation to argue or become defensive, but don’t hesitate to ask questions to better grasp the situation.
  • Accurate. Take detailed notes whether you’re dealing with a complaint in person, online or via email. List specifics regarding dates, items, deficiencies, receipts, guarantees and other matters related to the product or service. Spell out what measures you will take to resolve the issue. Then, summarize your notes for your customer verbally and in writing to insure understanding on both sides.
  • Responsible. If possible, correct the problem even when the customer isn’t completely right. Besides replacing an item or providing additional service, throwing in a discount, coupon or gift also is a smart move. You may lose some cash up front, and that hurts. But you’ve likely gained a loyal customer for the long term, as well a few nice words in the community.
  • Thorough. Follow-up after problem resolution is the best way to make sure your customers won’t wander off to other vendors or service providers. For instance, after a few days have passed, contact them to check whether replacement items or new services are doing the job. When grievance was about their in-store/office experience, talk about improvements you made and invite them to come back. If they are willing, ask them to complete a short survey critiquing your approach to complaints – a great method to quantify results.

Finally, view every complaint as a way to improve your products or services. Use your surveys to identify and address areas that continue to be problematic, and take note of how often any single customer has issues. You may find that an unhappy patron has been your company’s greatest asset.