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Complaints Handling – Best Practice Advice


Hello everyone,

I am currently putting together a short (2 hour) session on complaint handling for sales staff and was wondering if anyone had any suggestions/guidelines/top tips around best practice for ‘front line’ staff dealing with customer complaints that they would be able to share with me?

Historically, these staff members have been asking any complaining customers to write in, rather than trying to tackle any issues there and then. I am looking to spend some time with them and give them some tools and ideas to help them to try and tackle these issues when they arise, rather than letting them ‘fester’!

Additionally, if anyone has any exciting, interesting activities I could use, I would also be very grateful!

Thanks very much (in advance).

Lucy Sleigh

10 Responses

  1. Pointers
    Hi Lucy

    Few tips to get you started

    – Listen to the complaint and log it
    – Don’t agree or disagree, empathise
    – Tell your customer exactly what you are going to do. Check that this is acceptable to them
    – Give a time when it will be done by (underpromise/overdeliver)Turn it around as quickly as possible but ALWAYS keep your customer as up – to – date on whats going on as you can

    If you show genuine concern and deal with a complaint in this way, you can increase a customers loyalty, give greater chance of referrals and turn around a potential disaster into an excellent customer experience

    Best wishes

    Rich Lucas

  2. Activity and formula
    Hi Lucy

    An exercise I’ve used before and that has worked well is to split the group into 2. Ask one group to discuss how they feel when they receive a complaint and the other group to discuss how they feel when they are about to make a complaint. Most people don’t like complaining and usually the answers are very similar. Helps them empathise with the complainant.

    In terms of the ‘how’ I usually suggest the following:-

    Listen – and DON’T interrupt (take notes)
    Apologise that the situation has arisen
    Summarise back and if necessary ask questions to clarify
    Take responsibility for seeing the complaint through
    Talk about what you can do rather than what you can’t do

    Don’t take it personally and don’t argue

    Email me if you’d like further details and we can arrange to chat


  3. Complaints
    Just wanted to say thanks very much for responding to my query – all very useful!

  4. Arian Associates Ltd
    Rich’s advice below is sound and I agree with all his comments.
    My addition to his words of wisdom are – ‘God gave us two ears and one mouth, if we use them in that proportion we can’t go far wrong’.
    Listen to the compliant and try to get to the root cause – once you have that root cause you are well down the road to solving the customers problem.
    AND if you need to ring them back and you make promises of ring backs make sure you do them at the agreed time/date otherwise you make the problem worse – a lot worse.

  5. SMART
    Get your staff to use SMART objectives. There’s nothing better to keep customers from getting angry or upset than setting agreed deadlines and STICKING TO THEM. It prevents unnecessary calls into you, sets the customer’s expectations and so on. An objective should be
    S – Specific (what exactly do you need to achieve?)
    M – Measurable (how will you know if you’ve achived it?)
    A – Achievable (can it be done?)
    R _ Realistic (OK, it CAN be done, but can it be done with your resources, timescale etc?)
    T – Timed (set a deadline and stick to it).

    Also, one thing I always get my staff to do is review their performance after each customer and ask themselves the very simple question:
    “Did I do everything I could for that customer?”
    Unless they answer (honestly) ‘yes’, then they’re letting themselves and the customer down. Hope this helps

  6. Listen and repeat apology if necessary
    If you receive a complaint it is an opportunity. Often customers never contact you unless there is a problem. Use this opportunity:
    1 Apologise if only to appreciate that that your custmer is dissatisfied, they have taken the trouble to contact you
    2 Listen, empathise, resolve and record
    3 Finish by apologising again and thanking them for giving you the opportunity to resolve matters
    4 Initially customers don’t hear your opening comments that’s why you apologise again
    5 Use the opportunity to cross sell

  7. Behaviour is not enough – need solutions
    Complaint handlers need to use all the right behaviours. But unless they have the means of providing a solution acceptable to the complainant, even the best intentioned and best trained burn out. They need room to resolve and be trusted by their management.

  8. Complaint Handling
    A small but important point – many of the contributors mention apologising – in fact starting and finishing with an apology.

    „Ï This means that you are accepting that you are at fault and that the complainant is correct.
    „Ï Psychologically it puts your staff on the defensive they can eventually come to believe that they work for a poor company and that will be displayed in their attitude to handling complaints.
    „Ï The customer may become more bullish and aggressive towards your staff.

    How can you offer an apology and accept responsibility for the complaint when you do not as yet know any of the facts? What percentage of complaints about your Company are actually justified in terms of the Company being at fault?

    A far better approach offered by one contributor is to empathise with the fact that the complaint is unhappy and has felt it necessary to complain. Then to get on to the facts. After investigation if the Company is at fault then an apology should be offered.

    So design a role play where your staff can practice using an empathetic approach ¡V the right words, the right tone of voice (in face to face situations the right body language) etc. Short scenarios designed to create the right impression in the first minute of the complaint ¡V then develop the questioning techniques needed to establish the facts.

    Finally you might want to use a relationship audit to look at the behaviours that irritate customers ¡V like not ringing back when promised. If you want a copy the modify for session contact peter@

    Hope this helps

  9. Saying Sorry!

    Thanks again to everyone for joining in and helping me out. You are all certainly giving me something to think about!

    I agree with your comments Peter about apologising and the effects it can have on both the complainer and complainee (is that even a word?)

    However, I do think some sort of empathy needs to be shown, so how about rather than apologising for the situation (which might not warrant apologising for) apologise for the way it has made the complainer feel?
    E.G. ‘I am sorry this situation has made you feel this way’?

    Now I seem to be answering my own query! Splendid!


  10. Supporting staff dealing with complaints
    Lucy, I would be very careful about suggesting that your staff use the phrasing you thought of after Peter’s post. This kind of phrasing can be a red rag to a bull if the customer has raised a ‘factual’ based complaint – they will be extremely irritated to be fobbed off with a ‘I’m sorry this made you feel etc…’ comment. It may be better to suggest that staff repeat the customer’s complaint back to them, to confirm they have heard and understood the complaint and then to ask the customer what they would like that particular member of staff to do to rectify the situation. The customer is often likely to demand less than might be supposed. The member of staff should ensure that proper records of the facts are taken and that the customer is given feedback as to the progress of their complaint. Establish rules as to who has ownership of the complaint and processes for progressing them to the appropriate decision maker/resolution point.


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