Airlines in Australia seem to have been in a customer service black hole in recent weeks. First the ash cloud and then the grounding of Tiger Airways has revealed big gaps in their ability to deal with service problems in ways that generate customer co-operation rather than anger. And, of course, the media can’t get enough clips of irate customers standing in crowded airline terminals. How does your business deal with customer complaints? Do you have a system? Are your frontline staff trained to use it or do you just wing it and hope for the best?
Consider the following steps for successful complaint resolution:
- Acknowledge the problem – accept responsibility, without discussing blame.
- Listen – let the customer get the complaint off their chest without interruption.
- Clarify – get the details of the problem correct.
- Be sympathetic – regardless of who is at fault.
- Establish how the customer would like the problem resolved – job redone, refund, replacement, reimbursement? But don’t promise anything at this stage.
- Summarise the issue.
- Negotiate a solution. This may happen on the spot, or if not, you will need to explain the steps required, and the time involved. Remember, the customer is always right, even when they’re wrong. This doesn’t mean that you have to give them everything they ask for, but they do need to feel they have been taken seriously. At this stage, remember the lifetime value of the customer. Your resolution may cost you in the short term, but if it ensures the customer remains loyal, that cost should be inconsequential. Of course, there are occasional serial trouble makers – and you may suggest to take their business elsewhere. If you have good systems in place, this should be rare.
- Act now – your resolution should be in place as quickly as possible, and definitely within the agreed timeframe.
- When you’ve delivered the solution, follow up to make sure the customer is satisfied you’ve fulfilled your promise.
We all aim to avoid customer complaints, but its inevitable mistakes occasionally occur. Most customers are more forgiving than you think, provided you handle their problem constructively and with sympathy. In many cases, a well handled complaint will actually make the customer more likely to come back.