It seems counter intuitive, but as a business shouldn’t we welcome complaints? Of course we should – and here’s why.

When a customer is unhappy there are three potential outcomes:

  • They accept it, say nothing, and in all likelihood don’t bother to return.
  • They grumble about it, they tell their friends, and worse case, they post a negative review on TripAdvisor or leave a comment on Twitter.
  • They complain directly to us, which means we have a chance to rectify the situation and leave the customer with a positive last impression and an opportunity to encourage them to return.

Now, I know which of these options I would rather have. Which one would you choose? The trouble is that our teams don’t always see a complaint as a positive thing and therefore understandably try to avoid them.

Train your employees

The way to go is through customer service training. Obviously, prevention is much better than cure (and you can read tips on prevention in a previous post right here). But of course, you’re not always able to pre-empt problems and won’t be able to avoid all complaints.

It is inevitable that things sometimes go wrong: accidents happen, something gets missed or events occur that are totally out of our control. We have to accept these situations. The question is: what can you do to lessen the impact on your customers’ experience and minimise the potential damage to your relationship with your customer or your reputation?

There are a few things that you can do.

Read more: Use your employee handbook to train your staff

First of all, you should train your team to spot problems early on by listening and observing. Your employees can often sense there’s an issue long before you get told directly. And of course it’s far better to fix a problem there and then than have it left unresolved. The way the complaint is then dealt with will have a major impact on the end result and how the customer is left feeling.

Empower and motivate your team

Another thing you have to do is to focus on employee motivation. You need to give your team the skills and authority to deal with complaints as they happen. Encourage them and train them to ask for feedback, to step in when they spot a problem and – just as importantly – to respond when they get complaints or negative feedback.

This will lead to quick resolutions which will leave a positive impression with the customer, your team member gets a sense of pride because he/she is able to deal with issues, and it minimises the likelihood of you having to get involved. A win-win-win.

Free guide: Easiest way to employee motivation

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t hear about complaints, particularly if there are common recurring problems that need to be resolved. But this doesn’t have to happen while the customer is kept waiting.

Agree with your employees their levels of authority so they know just how much leeway they have in offering the customer/guest compensation, and at what point they may need to involve a manager. Let your team practise in a safe environment, based on different scenarios, but continue to observe how staff handle complaints, giving them feedback, support and guidance on areas where they need more help.

It’s all too easy when we hear of a complaint to blame someone in the team for the problem. Put the team first and they’ll reward you with avoiding problems.

Remember to LEARN

Here’s a little 5 stage checklist you may find useful in handling a complaint effectively irrespective of the cause. I use this structure when training, and together these form the acronym LEARN which is easy for team members to remember.

The way you handle the situation is what your customers will remember and if you can go above and beyond to resolve the problem, even when it’s down to a third party, customer error or even an act of God, it’s your ability to handle the situation they’ll remember, not the cause.

So, welcome complaints! The alternative might be no complaints, but no customers either!

Caroline Cooper is a speaker, author, trainer and consultant on customer service and customer loyalty. She’s founder of Naturally Loyal who specialises in helping businesses retain more of their quality customers, and is author of “The Hotel Success Handbook.”


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