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How to handle customer complaints

Every business owner dreads customer complaints, but it is possible to turn these negatives into positives with these top 10 tips.

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1. A complaint is a gift

Do not assume complaints from customers are simply moans from troublemakers; look on them as an opportunity for positive contact. A resolved complaint could be a chance to keep or win back a customer's business and gives you the opportunity to convert her/him into a loyal buyer.

2. Know your customers and competitors

For each complaint you receive, there are probably ten that you don't. Try to find out whether you are receiving more or fewer than your competitors.

3. Make complaining easy

Welcome your customers' complaints and making it easy for them to complain to you. Make sure they know how or where to complain. Ask yourself whether your customers tend to contact you when a problem arises.

You should make all your customers feel they are important to you and make it policy to never take a customer for granted.

4. Customers are expensive to replace

Work hard at keeping your customers because it is usually more costly to acquire a new customer than it is to keep an existing one. Make sure the only customer losses you suffer are those that are unavoidable.

5. Your complaints policies and procedures

Design an effective system for handling complaints from customers; they should allow you to deal with complaints promptly and enable you to reach a fair resolution. You should also follow-up on problems and complaints to make sure the outcome was satisfactory.

6. Treat your complaining customers well

Train your staff to handle complaints well. They need to listen properly to the customer and acknowledge his/her complaints. Two ears and one mouth should be used in the same ratio. Keep the customer informed on the progress of the complaint and personalise all responses to them.

7. Try to keep the customer happy

Check that staff do not dismiss the complaint by blaming other departments, people or computers. Your staff should be well-mannered and not defensive.

8. Complaint escalation

If a complaint is reasonable, staff should be able to take suitable steps to overcome the problem straightaway. If a complaint cannot be dealt with quickly, there should be a clear procedure for passing it to another person.

9. Follow-up

Get back in touch with the customer after an appropriate period to check the complaint has been handled satisfactorily. This contact should be used as an opportunity to encourage the customer to do more business with you. This is also a good time to look at and learn about the effectiveness of your policies and procedures.

10. Learn from complaints

Keep a record of complaints and analyse them periodically to discover any trends; they can indicate long-range opportunities for preventing problems or ways to change/innovate your product or service.

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