Even the best companies, with the best products and services and exceptional customer care, will inevitably receive a complaint. That point represents a moment of truth that, if handled effectively, could lead to not only a satisfied customer, but also a rabid brand advocate!
While customer complaints can often cause a lot of headaches for an organization—particularly for those front-line employees bearing the brunt of the complaints—they also represent a great source of customer feedback. It is important to know when customers are dissatisfied or unhappy because that input can provide insights into how to improve products, services and service delivery.
A number of customer service and general conflict resolution thought leaders advocate the L.E.A.R.N. method for responding to customer complaints. It’s an easy-to-remember approach to help ensure that every customer complaint is handled well. Customer Service Point explains how each letter in L.E.A.R.N. represents a crucial step in responding to complaints effectively: Learn, Empathize, Apologize, React, Now!
The most important step of handling customer complaints is also one of the hardest—letting the customer speak, or even vent! Customers complain when something that was out of their control has gone wrong. By complaining, they’re trying to establish some level of control by taking charge of the situation; they want to find someone who will take ownership of the issue and resolve the problem. It’s not uncommon for customers to be frustrated, or even angry, with these situations. And, unfortunately, the first person they encounter—in person, over the phone, or online—will bear the brunt of that emotion. It’s a rough place to be, but the key is to listen. If you do find yourself in this situation, don’t interrupt or ignore the customer, and don’t start shouting back; those responses will only escalate the situation.
When faced with a customer complaint, regardless of how insignificant the complaint or how upset the customer may be, it’s important to empathize with his or her situation, even if it’s in a very casual way. Saying, “I’m so sorry,” or “I can understand why you are upset,” lets the customer know that you’re human, too. These responses tell the customer that you want to help—not because then they’ll go away, but because their good will is important to you.
Sometimes all an upset customer wants is to know that the organization is sorry for his or her less-than-satisfactory experience. A simple apology can go a long way toward alleviating a touchy situation. However, sincerity is key; make sure the apology is heartfelt—not scripted or robotic—or you’ll likely do more harm than good.
Customers may be temporarily placated by an empathetic apology, but they expect actions and not just words. It’s crucial that all of your employees, particularly front-line employees, know how to handle and—when necessary—escalate complaints to ensure they are resolved quickly. “There is always a solution,” says Mathew Swyers in a piece for Inc. in which he discusses a variation of the L.E.A.R.N. model. “It may not be exactly what they are asking for, but if you focus on what you can do versus denying them their requested remedy you have still offered a solution.”
It’s important not only to react quickly to customer complaints, but also to let customers know when you have reacted. Follow up a few days later. Some of our strongest customer testimonials were written by people who initially came to us with a complaint, but are now our most steadfast customers. When customers do complain, we don’t treat them like they’re a problem; we treat them like their input is important (because it is!), and we make sure to call or email a couple of days later just to make sure everything is working out. These relationships go a long way toward ensuring satisfaction, repeat business and positive word-of-mouth. That’s right—successfully resolved complaints can also lead to the most loyal customers!
An angry customer will not be a customer for long, and they can let others know they’re unhappy. People tend to share negative experiences before they share positive ones, and people will click on a post called “How Company X Ruined My Day” a lot faster than they’ll read “Company X Did a Great Job!” Handling customer complaints using strategies like the L.E.A.R.N. method can help avoid that snowball effect of a bad customer experience.
Of course, having a seamless method of access for customers who want to communicate with you is critical. That’s where we can help. Over the past 17 years, we’ve relied exclusively on providing exceptional, live customer service and high-quality Virtual PBX phone systems to grow our business—and yours!