Blog 7 - Customer Complaints & Relationships

All of us like to think we deliver the perfect service or product but is it really possible and what does it mean?

If something is truly perfect our customers would surely refuse any adaptation, or would they? What about BOGOF offers or if, as labour providers, we offer extra discount for placements. It is unlikely that either of the offers would be refused, but let’s use them to illustrate that perfection to one customer may not be regarded as such by another and so we should always strive for what our customers regard as perfect.

All that said complaints do happen and our objective should be to minimise, but never forget they may also create an opportunity to improve customer relations and this can very much depend on your attitude in dealing with complaints from disgruntled customers. Build a rapport by showing you really understand and care, contain the issue, and work towards achieving a customer who is at least as happy as they were before they had cause to complain but who is perhaps even happier. By listening and understanding the complaint, its underlying cause, and the effect of it and then dealing with the issues you reduce the likelihood of recurrence.

I’m sure you already develop and encourage staff, manage people effectively, use training and development to help people build rapport with customers and if so you have already encouraged a culture in which delighting the customer is natural. Simply adopting that mind-set will often help prevent customer complaints escalating into conflict

Staff may need help in stopping a situation escalating as there is a natural tendency to try explaining why things have gone wrong which unfortunately often merely creates more tension and loss of rapport as most customers don’t want to know what you know; they want to know that you care and how you intend to resolve their complaint.

Staff may potentially regard complaining customers as aggressive or manipulative. They may then react in a similar way themselves but this simply adds fuel to the fire. What they have done is to concentrate on the problem or argument rather than on the solution and so deal with the issues assertively rather than passively or aggressively.

People who are good at this manage to assume a detached or objective viewpoint so don’t get caught up in the emotions of the situation which we all know is not always easy

Listen to your customers as you really need to understand what they think about you, your products and service and not only if they have cause to complain. Customer perception plays a key role in whether you succeed or not and I believe that feedback from customers is one of the most valuable learning sources possible. It’s a great way to focus on what is working, and it also pays dividends in drawing your attention to things that are working less well.

My advice would always be only seek feedback if you really intend listening and are willing to embrace change, otherwise it may only serve to worsen a situation or relationship.

 Put yourself in the customer’s shoes and imagine what you would want to happen as a result of giving feedback.

You may not want to adopt every change every single customer would like. On the other hand, feedback can provide clear indicators as to where to put your efforts for improvement so in asking for feedback think about:

  • ·         How flexible are you in meeting customer needs
  • ·         How well do you communicate with customers?
  • ·          How proactive you are in seeking feedback
  • ·          How do you respond to feedback?
  • ·          How do customers rate the value for money you offer?
  • ·          How reliable are you, your delivery, your service or products?
  • ·          How innovative do customers think you are?
  • ·         How good are you when it comes to complaints handling, response times, technical support calls?

·         How willing are customers are to buy the same products or services from you again?

·          How ready are they to recommend you to others?

Most of us set targets and measure various aspects of business but although targets tend to tell you if you have arrived they may not tell you much about progress; you can progress towards excellent customer relations but to say you have arrived is perhaps a mistake?

  • For each aspect of customer relations you have measured, what would make the single biggest difference to that result?
  • Where are the quick wins that would have a high impact and be easily visible to customers?
  • Who can make the difference? How would they need to change their attitude and behaviour to make it happen?
  • Do the systems need to change? How?

Companies that excel in customer relations are willing to learn. They know that systems need to change to meet new demands and challenges. They are agile and flexible in the face of customer feedback.

 If you do nothing else, pay homage to the old cliché - walk the talk – and keep walking. Within that your key elements to sustain and nurture customer relations include:

  • Culture
  • Management behaviour
  • Performance management
  • Continuous improvement.

This means

  • Maintaining a customer-focused and learning culture
  • Continually exhibiting appropriate management behaviour and leadership through example
  • Integrity in operating an appropriate system for managing people within a wider performance management system
  • Development and wholehearted application of systems for continuous improvement.

 Ultimately, it is your team who will work with the systems and processes to deliver the customer service that will develop your customer relations.

Typically those companies with great customer relations are usually great places to work. This is simply because any company that does not value its own people is unlikely to value its customers.

Can you put a value on your team? PRICELESS!