How to effectively deal with complaints



How to effectively deal with complaints

Complaint handing or «service recovery» as it is currently known in my particular organization, may not be the most highly prized of job duties. However, handling complaints efficiently and effectively is an extremely important skill that many companies would do well to spend more time cultivating among their employee group.

Some industries are more susceptible to complaints than others. The insurance industry is a notable example. Having been employed with the same major property and casualty insurer for more than 20 years I firmly believe that only the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is more reviled.

I have worked in many different capacities with my company over the years, underwriting, management and technical support to name a few and in all of these positions I have found one common factor in resolving complaints: developing superior listening skills.

That’s right. All you really have to do is learn to listen. Now, I know that many of you are probably thinking, «That’s it? That’s the secret weapon? Nah, it can’t be. It’s much too simple.» But, amazingly, I have found that it really is «that simple.» Let’s take a look at why that is the case.

Take a moment to consider your own relationships and daily encounters. These can be with family members, friends, co-workers, retail salespeople, or various customer service representatives. If you think back to times when you may been trying to explain your position or point of view about a particular problem or issue to any of these individuals what was the one thing that was almost guaranteed to steer the conversation in a negative direction? Could it perhaps have been the feeling that you were not being listened to?

Listening to an irate customer isn’t always easy, especially at first when he or she tends to be the most upset. But listening carefully, especially in the initial stages is crucial, for a couple of reasons. First, when a customer is on a «rant» they often reveal key information that can provide you with important clues about how best to resolve their problem. And second, by simply remaining quietly on the line you are allowing them to vent their anger. Once they have «unloaded» sufficiently then you will have a better chance of speaking calmly with them regarding what the next steps should be in resolving their concern.

One memorable example was a case where I received a call from an older gentleman who was very upset concerning something to do with his insurance bill. To compound the problem he had a very heavy accent and was quite difficult to understand. Several of my more inexperienced staff members had panicked when they could not understand him and kept transferring him to different areas of the department. When the call finally reached my desk he was understandably frustrated and upset.

Initially, I was also having a very difficult time understanding his heavily accented English but I simply listened and let him shout at me over the telephone for several minutes when I suddenly heard him say what sounded like, «I sold the place.» I immediately jotted this down and once there seemed to be a pause I politely said, «Excuse me sir, did I hear you say that you sold your home?» He then said, quite clearly, «Yes, and you people keep sending me bills for a house I don’t even have anymore.» From that point on, the conversation went very smoothly. I was able to gather the information about when the house was sold and when the Homeowners insurance should be canceled. I confirmed his new address and assured him that a refund would be sent right away. By the end of the conversation he was calm and grateful for my help, but if I hadn’t listened long enough to decipher that one important phrase this issue might never have been effectively resolved.

Along with listening closely here are some other strategies I have found useful in dealing effectively with complaints:

Don’t interrupt.

Interrupting someone «mid-rant» does nothing but fuel the fire of their anger. Unless they are saying something that causes you to feel that your life or the lives of your co-workers are in danger it’s probably better to just let them get the anger out of their system.

Control your own emotions.

This can be tough, especially with customers who seem to want to make their complaint personal. Just remember that no matter how insulting someone is being, it really is not about you and nothing can be gained by allowing yourself to be drawn into an argument

Take notes.

Taking notes while a customer is venting is a great way to make sure that you are capturing relevant information that may be hiding among the customer’s angry comments. The information from your notes may prove useful in helping you design a solution to the customer’s concern. It also helps you achieve items 1 and 2 by keeping your mind occupied by something else besides the tongue-lashing that the customer may be giving you at the moment

Stay positive.

Sometimes after listening closely, you may realize that you are not going to be able to give the customer exactly what they want. However, you may still be able to resolve the complaint effectively by finding some positive action that you can provide. Here is where taking notes may come in handy. The customer may have expressed a number of smaller concerns that might have seemed unrelated to the larger issue. But, if you can resolve some of these small issues even though you are denying the person’s primary request it may help to soften the blow.

For example,» I’m sorry Mr. Smith. I cannot provide you with free homeowners insurance for a year, but here’s what I can do. I’ve already corrected the misspelling of your street address and I’ve sent a note to your agent’s staff reminding them that you prefer to be addressed as Mr. Smith and not as ‘Buddy’.»

Be Honest

Most importantly, be honest with the customer. If you aren’t able to help them, tell them so, clearly and honestly. It also helps to understand why you are saying no. It’s easy to fall back on excuses like, «That’s our policy.» However, when you take the time to learn the reasons behind the policy and share concrete reasons with the customer, most will appreciate that. They may not agree with the final decision but may come away with a better understanding rather than feeling as if the company doesn’t value their business.

While handling complaints probably never will become enjoyable, I hope these simple tips will at least help in reducing the stress associated with handling customer complaints.

Complaint handing or «service recovery» as it is currently known in my particular organization, may not be the most highly prized of job duties. However, handling complaints efficiently and effectively is an extremely important skill that many companies would do well to spend more time cultivating among their employee group.

Some industries are more susceptible to complaints than others. The insurance industry is a notable example. Having been employed with the same major property and casualty insurer for more than 20 years I firmly believe that only the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is more reviled.

I have worked in many different capacities with my company over the years, underwriting, management and technical support to name a few and in all of these positions I have found one common factor in resolving complaints: developing superior listening skills.

That’s right. All you really have to do is learn to listen. Now, I know that many of you are probably thinking, «That’s it? That’s the secret weapon? Nah, it can’t be. It’s much too simple.» But, amazingly, I have found that it really is «that simple.» Let’s take a look at why that is the case.

Take a moment to consider your own relationships and daily encounters. These can be with family members, friends, co-workers, retail salespeople, or various customer service representatives. If you think back to times when you may been trying to explain your position or point of view about a particular problem or issue to any of these individuals what was the one thing that was almost guaranteed to steer the conversation in a negative direction? Could it perhaps have been the feeling that you were not being listened to?

Listening to an irate customer isn’t always easy, especially at first when he or she tends to be the most upset. But listening carefully, especially in the initial stages is crucial, for a couple of reasons. First, when a customer is on a «rant» they often reveal key information that can provide you with important clues about how best to resolve their problem. And second, by simply remaining quietly on the line you are allowing them to vent their anger. Once they have «unloaded» sufficiently then you will have a better chance of speaking calmly with them regarding what the next steps should be in resolving their concern.

One memorable example was a case where I received a call from an older gentleman who was very upset concerning something to do with his insurance bill. To compound the problem he had a very heavy accent and was quite difficult to understand. Several of my more inexperienced staff members had panicked when they could not understand him and kept transferring him to different areas of the department. When the call finally reached my desk he was understandably frustrated and upset.

Initially, I was also having a very difficult time understanding his heavily accented English but I simply listened and let him shout at me over the telephone for several minutes when I suddenly heard him say what sounded like, «I sold the place.» I immediately jotted this down and once there seemed to be a pause I politely said, «Excuse me sir, did I hear you say that you sold your home?» He then said, quite clearly, «Yes, and you people keep sending me bills for a house I don’t even have anymore.» From that point on, the conversation went very smoothly. I was able to gather the information about when the house was sold and when the Homeowners insurance should be canceled. I confirmed his new address and assured him that a refund would be sent right away. By the end of the conversation he was calm and grateful for my help, but if I hadn’t listened long enough to decipher that one important phrase this issue might never have been effectively resolved.

Other Tips for Resolving Complaints

Along with listening closely here are some other strategies I have found useful in dealing effectively with complaints:

Don’t interrupt.

Interrupting someone «mid-rant» does nothing but fuel the fire of their anger. Unless they are saying something that causes you to feel that your life or the lives of your co-workers are in danger it’s probably better to just let them get the anger out of their system.

Control your own emotions.

This can be tough, especially with customers who seem to want to make their complaint personal. Just remember that no matter how insulting someone is being, it really is not about you and nothing can be gained by allowing yourself to be drawn into an argument

Take notes.

Taking notes while a customer is venting is a great way to make sure that you are capturing relevant information that may be hiding among the customer’s angry comments. The information from your notes may prove useful in helping you design a solution to the customer’s concern. It also helps you achieve items 1 and 2 by keeping your mind occupied by something else besides the tongue-lashing that the customer may be giving you at the moment

Stay positive.

Sometimes after listening closely, you may realize that you are not going to be able to give the customer exactly what they want. However, you may still be able to resolve the complaint effectively by finding some positive action that you can provide. Here is where taking notes may come in handy. The customer may have expressed a number of smaller concerns that might have seemed unrelated to the larger issue. But, if you can resolve some of these small issues even though you are denying the person’s primary request it may help to soften the blow.

For example,» I’m sorry Mr. Smith. I cannot provide you with free homeowners insurance for a year, but here’s what I can do. I’ve already corrected the misspelling of your street address and I’ve sent a note to your agent’s staff reminding them that you prefer to be addressed as Mr. Smith and not as ‘Buddy’.»Be Honest

Most importantly, be honest with the customer. If you aren’t able to help them, tell them so, clearly and honestly. It also helps to understand why you are saying no. It’s easy to fall back on excuses like, «That’s our policy.» However, when you take the time to learn the reasons behind the policy and share concrete reasons with the customer, most will appreciate that. They may not agree with the final decision but may come away with a better understanding rather than feeling as if the company doesn’t value their business.

While handling complaints probably never will become enjoyable, I hope these simple tips will at least help in reducing the stress associated with handling customer complaints.

Writer: Moulds

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