While much has been said on how to avoid complaints from your customers, they will still happen. Assuming you’re a good person trying hard, being told you aren’t delivering takes your lizard brain from zero to sixty in a flash. You are under attack! Your heart starts pounding, blood flows from the extremities, you feel agitated…your whole body gets primed for a fight. Now what? The five concepts below have helped us handle customer complaints in our business. Maybe they can also help you:
1. Recognize that you are not under siege.
The physical responses you notice when you receive a complaint are from an ancient programming system (AKA the amygdala) that allowed the cave person version of you to survive. A tiger is going to eat me! Prepare! Fortunately, your client is no tiger. You are not in physical danger. To be a great service provider, your first action when confronted with a complaint is to compose yourself. Know that this is not a personal attack; you will not die from this. Calm down so you can understand the problem. Pause. Breathe. Count. Do whatever you need to do to snap out of it.
Likely your customer is also ready for action. They’re frustrated and agitated – they want what they want, they want it from you, and you aren’t delivering. It’s time for you to take control of this relationship and that will only happen with a clear head.
2. Do not solve their problem. Understand it.
Sometimes the solution seems so obvious your initial reaction may be to immediately tell them how you will rectify the problem. This is a risky strategy. If you are right, the customer will be appeased. If you didn’t understand the complaint based on their initial description, the situation will be further enflamed. A safer (for you) and more satisfying (for them) course of action is to hear them out. Listen to the problem they are describing. Ask clarifying questions so they can vent and you can understand. The first expression of a complaint is not always the real issue they want resolved. Take time to listen and do your best to refrain from jumping to a solution before you have heard the complaint in its entirety.
3. Look at the problem from their perspective.
Empathy can be the path to problem resolution. Instead of feeling sorry for yourself that you are in this spot, or angry that they put you there (or you put yourself there), think about the problem from their perspective. Now posit how they must be feeling and ask them if you are close to getting it right. They will feel (and be) heard and you will have some common ground to work from.
4. Seek their advice.
“What are the three priorities you would like me to tackle, right now?” This question invites further confirmation for you and gives them power over the outcome. With power, their amygdala begins to relax and the two of you can move into a more rational problem-solving mode.
5. Allow humour in.
There’s nothing like a good laugh in a crisis. If there is a way to inject humour or levity into the situation, do it. Anything to short circuit that lizard brain can help.
We never want a customer to get to the point where they feel the need to complain. But if you can get past the initial emotions that complaints stir, almost any situation can be turned around. Complaints will happen, and sometimes about things that are beyond your control. How you handle them is always within your control. Apply these concepts and watch your complaint resolution process improve.
Bellrock is a process benchmarking and change management firm based in Vancouver, Canada. Know someone who might find this article useful? Please share it with your networks.