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CUSTOMERS have two choices when they are dissatisfied; they can complain, or just disappear never to be seen again. Many of them do the latter because the ‘cost’ of complaining is too high and they figure it is not worth the effort. If customers are dissatisfied with the product or service, they are more likely to complain if they perceive your organisation as one that values complaints as opportunities to fix something. You need to show them that you are open and approachable and welcome their complaint as an opportunity to retain their business. When customers have a genuine complaint, don’t go into blame or excuse mode, go into recovery mode. Below is checklist a manager can use with staff in relation to reducing customer complaints or improving the way we respond to customer complaints. • Inform customers of unexpected costs. • Check to see that the product or service provided met their expectations. • Ask customers for their perceptions of the products and services we provide. • Ask customers for ways to improve our products and services. • Incorporate customer suggestions into new ways of doing things. • Make a note of all promises to customers and do what you say you will – always. • Avoid creating expectations that can’t be met. • Provide accurate information at all times. If you don’t know, find out the facts from someone who does. • Use a problem solving approach such as, “Thank you for bringing this to my attention. It is very annoying when things like this happen. I’ll look into this immediately and get back to you.” • Identify the exact cause of the customer’s complaint. • Inform those responsible for dealing with the customer complaint of the complaint. • Actively listen to the customer by asking questions to clarify their concerns. When they have finished, paraphrase or summarise their main points to demonstrate that you listened and to check that you accurately understand their problem. • Identify with how they are feeling, “If that happened to me I would be really annoyed. I’m sorry this has happened.” • Inform the customer of what you intend to do to resolve the problem. • Provide some appropriate compensation to the customer for the inconvenience suffered. • Direct the customer to someone who can solve his or her problem when you can’t. • Remember that customers pay your salary – avoid becoming angry or upset when customers make complaints. Think of it as an opportunity to turn a situation around, not as a complaint. • Remember that the customer is frustrated at the product or the service or the organisation, not you personally, but at this moment you are the focus of their frustration. • Provide privacy, as many people find it embarrassing to complain. Identify what can be said to customers to help them feel better. • Practice responding to customer complaints during staff training sessions. • Ask other staff what they think and do to handle customer complaints successfully – learn from each other.• Follow through on customer complaints to check that the customer’s problem has been resolved. Daniel Kehoe

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