Make the best out of customer complaints

Even well-run recruitment businesses occasionally receive complaints and, if handled in the right way, complaints allow for service to be improved through rectifying faults that were previously unknown. But did you know that a well-managed complaints system can also increase loyalty and, as a result, sales?

My theory for this is that complaints are like sales objections — and, just like sales objections, we need to overcome them in the right way, by demonstrating care, understanding and a keenness to resolve a need.

It is generally accepted that satisfied customers are likely to tell people about your service and that dissatisfied customers are likely to tell even more people about their experiences. But if a customer has complained and is satisfied with the way the complaint was handled, they are likely to recommend significantly more people than if they were satisfied in the first place — all of which goes to increase the bottom line.

So, as long as we are not receiving complaints on a regular basis (which could indicate a fundamental problem with the service), we should welcome and manage complaints as an integral part of an open and honest service culture. After all, when customers take the trouble to bring a problem to our notice, surely the least we can do is to afford them the attention they deserve?

So why is it that, in our industry, customer complaints are often so badly managed? In my 20 years’ recruitment experience, I have seen incidences of sheer fright, indifference and even aggression in response to a complaint. And I believe it is simply due to the fact that we don’t train our staff in how to deal with them.

The best examples of complaint management I have seen are where the company has a straightforward policy, which shows all staff, especially those on the “front line”, what to do and when.

Coaching everyone in how to implement the procedure, the part they play in making it work and the effect this has on the business will make it real for them. And including training in allowing the client to let off steam, explaining the steps of the procedure, keeping them informed and following through, should help the customer’s perception that we genuinely want to help and understand them.

And this really does work; I have seen situations where a complaint has been handled so well, that the customer has ended up apologising for “making a fuss”. So why not give it a go and see for yourself — there is nothing to lose and everything to gain!

Mike Petrook of the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) advises: “All employees need to understand how to react. For example, there should be a standard procedure for the length of time it takes to respond to a letter of complaint. It’s all about developing basic customer service standards.” In addition to this, he also recommends including steps for:

  • How to take the initial complaint — what to do and say
  • Investigating the complaint
  • What to record
  • Timescales
  • When to refer upwards
  • Standard letters to use and adapt as appropriate
  • How to respond when the customer is right — and when they are wrong!

Denise Walker

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