Fast Guide in Dealing with Customer Complaints

CRM, complaint handling

Most organizations spend a lot of time and money trying to identify customers who want to buy their products. Here, Roger Cartwright explains that complaining customers are offering themselves up free!

Many people become defensive when dealing with complaints because this is a person’s natural reaction to someone who is angrily criticizing their organization or department in the case of an internal customer complaint. Organizations seek to instill loyalty into their employees but complaint situations are times when employees need to be honest and objective. Within the bounds of commercial confidentiality it is counterproductive to not be honest with the customer. Lying to the customer is nearly always found out and only serves to make recovery more difficult. Dealing with complaints requires three actions that have traditionally been carried out in the order of:



Organisations have, traditionally, on receiving a complaint carried out an investigation to see whether the complaint is justified. If the customer has been found to be justified in making a complaint, some form of remedy has been applied as an action and the organization has hopefully, learnt from what has happened and taken steps to ensure that there is no repetition.

More modern thinking suggests that the order of the above should be changed to put the action in rectifying the customer’s complaint first and the investigation second. Organisations have argued in the past that they need to carry out an investigation in order to prevent spurious and even fraudulent claims. Such claims however are only a tiny minority when compared to the majority of perfectly justified complaints. If the sums of money involved are large then most customers would consider an investigation reasonable, but when only small sums are in question then immediate action is more likely to recover the situation and retain customer goodwill than a long investigation. The investigation and learning are still important even if there has been only one complaint, because whether the complaint was justified or not the product or service has angered one person, so it could anger someone else. The organisation needs to find out what has happened and what lessons can be learnt.

People usually complain and may become difficult for a reason. Whatever the staff of the organisation feel about the complaint, they cannot deny the customer’s feelings of anger or disappointment and that is what the organisation needs to deal with.

Customers do make mistakes but organisations need to bear in mind that if one customer can make a mistake when using the product or service, then others can too. There may be instructions on the packaging, for example, that the organisation needs to change in order to prevent further mistakes. Just as employees do not wish to admit a fault of the organisation, customers may be embarrassed by having to admit that they have made a mistake. Embarrassed customers can quickly become ex-customers. If the organisation is in the right, then it is paradoxically at its most vulnerable because that means that the customer is in the wrong and it takes a great deal of tact to tell the customer that they have made a mistake.

Customers who complain should, with the exception of professional complainers, be thanked because they give the organisation an opportunity to put whatever is wrong right, not only for that one customer but also for others who are going to be acquiring the product or service in the future. Complaints can also provide the organisation with the valuable market research. Many organisations spend huge sums on market research to find out what people like and dislike. The person who has complained is offering the organisation free information. If justification for the cost of customer recovery is needed this might well be it. By acting quickly to put things right the organisation may save considerable sums in the future, or be able to design new products and services in a better way as a result of the customer feedback gained through complaints.

Complaining customers usually want to give the organisation another chance. As Cartwright & Green (1997)* have pointed out, those who walk away without complaining are really saying ‘Goodbye’. They are saying: ‘You let me down and you won’t get another chance’. Those who complain are saying ‘Hello’. They mean: ‘You have let me down but I want to give you a chance to make it up to me’.

Most organisations spend a lot of time and money trying to identify customers who want to buy their products. Complaining customers are offering themselves up free!

Source: Extract from: Mastering Customer Relations by Roger Cartwright (ISBN 0-333-69343-4). The book is part of the Macmillan Master Series.

Amit Nayak
ITESGrads India

October 2003

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