American businesses think they’re doing a stellar job handling customer complaints. A whopping majority—80 percent of businesses—thought so in one survey, according to Forbes.
But their customers weren’t so pumped. When asked if their complaints were handled well, only a pitiful 8 percent of customers agreed.
Poor complaint management is smacking businesses in the bottom line. American businesses lose more than $62 billion a year when disgruntled customers switch companies. It often takes only one bad experience for a customer to turn to a competitor.
Yet brand loyalty is the gold standard. With it:
- Consumers spread the word about your business
- Customers associate warm, positive feelings with your products or services
- People choose your business over competitors
Perhaps the best way to cultivate strong brand loyalty is to ensure that complaints are handled the right way. After all, people prefer businesses that take concerns seriously and resolve issues right away.
Here’s what you need to know about why it’s important to manage complaints and how to go about doing so.
The Top Reasons for Customer Complaints
When it comes to resolving complaints, customers expect:
- An employee who takes the time to listen and acknowledge a problem
- An immediate solution to their problem
- Follow-ups to make sure their problem was fixed
Codes of Conduct: A Key Tool for Employees
It’s hard to tackle customer complaints on the fly. If employees aren’t prepared, they’re more likely to provide poor responses. The result? Wasted time as complaints get passed up the chain of command to stamp out fires.
A better solution is to develop a company code of conduct that includes steps for handling complaints. Employees generally appreciate firm guidance and you can tailor it to convey your unique business tone.
Here’s a snippet from Google’s Code of Conduct:
“Responsiveness: We recognize relevant user feedback when we see it, and we do something about it. We take pride in responding to communications from our users, whether questions, problems or compliments. If something is broken, fix it.
Take Action: Any time you feel our users aren’t being well-served, don’t be bashful—let someone in the company know about it.”
You can find more examples of codes of conduct online.
Tips for Handling Customer Complaints
Sometimes, even when a complaint is handled by the book, customers won’t be satisfied. Here are some tips on how to resolve more difficult customer complaints or defuse angry customers:
1. Stay calm
When resolving any customer complaint, it’s important to always remain in control of the situation. Maintain your composure no matter how riled up the customer gets. It’s not about who’s winning or losing. It’s about resolving an issue.
2. Do not interrupt the customer
If possible, don’t interrupt. Cutting off a customer or interjecting often makes customers feel invalidated or unheard. Instead, listen thoughtfully and let the customer finish. Use supportive phrases like “I see” and “tell me more.”
3. Acknowledge the problem
If there’s been a clear mistake, admit it. If you’re not sure, at least acknowledge the frustration the customer feels.
Best Practices for Employee Complaints
Dealing with employee complaints is also important for the business. However, it’s often even stickier, because personal relationships come into play.
Employees often feel that a manager picks favorites, ignores complaints or fails to communicate well. But successful managers make sure employees are evaluated objectively and have access to upper management:
As with customers, listen to your employees when you receive a complaint. Make sure you clearly understand their complaint and allow them to talk at length until they feel heard. You don’t have to solve the problem on the spot; employees are often satisfied after feeling heard and believing you will look more deeply into the issue—but be sure to follow through on your promises.
2. Use metrics
Instead of getting bogged down in personality issues, measure employee performance with well-defined goals. Use the same objective performance indicators for each employee. This levels the playing field and makes top performers feel appreciated.
3. Avoid communication silos
Communication silos are a common employee complaint. Employees may feel walled-off from communication between departments or higher management. Share key information widely. Establish fixed, open channels of communication with management.
4. Do not retaliate as a manager
It’s important to maintain your boundaries. However, when an employee files a complaint, don’t strike back with disparaging comments or cold shoulder behaviors. Manager retaliation is a common charge filed with the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission. Don’t make that mistake. Instead, keep calm and maintain your composure.
5. Do not shame employees
Filing a complaint shouldn’t turn an employee into the office pariah. The employee may be opening a window to a problem that management desperately needs to fix. Don’t fire the employee or rush to judgment by taking sides. Make the employee feel heard and evaluate the problem objectively.
6. Practice confidentiality
Confidentiality is at once a legal issue and a courtesy issue. No employee wants their private concerns turned into the butt of jokes, emailed to other employees or exposed on social networks. Respect your employees and keep their private complaints to you confidential. Try to defuse the issue if you can instead of passing it up the chain. Otherwise, the employee might feel brushed off—they came to you first for a reason.
Putting Complaints into Perspective
No manager enjoys dealing with complaints. But there’s no need to escalate small problems into Level 4 red alerts. It's often enough to let an employee vent if they need to.
Try to keep an open door. You’re not the office therapist, but it’s a manager’s job to stay informed about customers and employees. It’s much better to learn about problems from an employee than to be asked about it later from higher-ups.
Whether dealing with complaints, a little extra time, patience and kindness will go a long way to building relationships and burnishing your company’s image.