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Better Business Bureau ®
Start With Trust®
Central Virginia
Are You Waiting Too Long To Reply To A Customer Complaint?
September 17, 2012

It’s no secret that few of us seek out stressful conversations. Yet every day at the BBB, we see the outcome of a failure to respond quickly to calls from dissatisfied customers. We also hear a lot of good reasons for not returning that first call about a problem with a product or service. The trouble is, no matter how you, as the business owner or manager, may see the situation, you have a customer waiting to hear from you. And at this early stage of the resolution process, you probably have a lot of customer goodwill working in your favor. After all, your customer had a choice of numerous businesses to buy from, and they chose you! They have a lot invested in that decision – their desire to believe they made a good choice and their belief in you. That first call is your opportunity to capitalize on the relationship with the customer and to demonstrate you have their interests at heart.

At BBB we deal with complaints every day – it’s a big part of our service to the business community. And we know the feeling – no one wants to start the day with a stressful call, no one wants to end the day with a stressful call, and it’s pretty hard to think of any hour in between when a stressful call sounds like a good idea! So, what do you do about customer complaints? Based on our years of experience, we have several recommendations. Reply to every customer communication promptly, be gracious, and take control of the conversation from the start.

Reply promptly. How long is too long to reply to a customer complaint? We believe that waiting any longer than 24 hours is going to make the conversation more difficult. That doesn’t mean you have to have an answer right away; it means you need to make contact right away. This shows your customer that you are concerned and interested in their satisfaction. Remember the feeling of goodwill? Well, if your customer asks to speak with you, and more than a day goes by without your call, a little doubt begins to set in and you are already losing their esteem.

Be Gracious. Be respectful and open-minded so that your customer feels at ease speaking with you. Remember, it’s stressful to complain as well as to receive a complaint. The customer chose to do business with you. It’s time to put aside your defenses and hear them out. There may be a simple answer to the problem, but you won’t know that until you’ve had a chance to find out exactly what has happened. Above all, let your customer know that your goal is a satisfied customer.

Take control of the conversation. We can’t emphasize this enough! Prepare for your call. If you suspect you know what the problem is, jot down some notes and facts before returning the call. That way you can discuss the situation concretely. It is much more effective to be able to say “We left you messages on the 14th, the 20th and the 25th;” than it is to say “I’ve been told someone from the office called you several times last month.”

If you don’t know what the problem is, remind yourself and your customer that your objective on this call is to understand clearly what the problem is, with the expectation that you will need to do some research before you have an answer. Then get all the details you can, take notes and repeat to the customer what you understand he or she is telling you. Ask if there is anything else you should be aware of. You want to be able to take care of the situation in as few steps as possible.

Don’t get sidetracked! There is no percentage in verbal attacks, fault-finding, “should haves,” or other distractions. Your goal is to find a “win-win solution” to the problem.

If you believe you are coming across too strong, take a deep breath and regroup! Your goal is to maintain your relationship with your customer, at least until the situation is resolved.

Finally, give realistic expectations. If it’s going to take a week to research what happened; say so! And then commit to calling back in a week with an update, even if you don’t have the complete answer. And never promise something you are not certain you can deliver. That may sound obvious, but we see it all the time. In the desire to end the conversation on a happy note, too many times our businesses over-promise. Think carefully about any commitment you are going to make and confirm it in writing.

In summary, the hardest step in complaint resolution is the first one. Just be prepared, be confident, and be ready to solidify your relationship with that customer.