The 7 golden rules for turning customers who complain into life-long brand promoters

We have a saying at UGP – that “customer services is not just a department, it’s an attitude”; a phrase that is never more meaningful than when it refers to the handling of customer complaints.

While nobody likes talking about customer complaints, the reality is that it’s a part of being in business and companies should look at them not as a nuisance, but as an opportunity to get feedback and improve the way they operate going forward.

People complain for many reasons, and with varying motives. However, whether the complaint is a valid one or whether as a business you believe yourself to be in the right, it’s important to remember that your reputation depends on how you handle the situation.

By following a few simple rules, it is possible to turn a customer who has a valid complaint, into a loyal promoter of your brand.

Rule 1: Thank the customer

No matter what the complaint, the customer has gone out of their way to give you feedback and you should thank them for their time. Thanking the customer immediately let’s them know that you value their opinion and that you take customer opinion, good or bad, seriously.

Rule 2: Apologise

Whether you think the customer is in the right or not, apologise for the experience they have had. Their perception, until the issue is resolved, is everything, and you’ll go a long way towards ensuring a peaceful resolution if you apologise and acknowledge the customer’s frustration or concern. Many complaints will require further investigation and follow up; your complaining customer is far more likely to be patient throughout

Rule 3: Be human!

There’s nothing worse than a pre-scripted email, phone conversation or online social interaction. Being on the receiving end of it is frustrating and leaves you with the feeling that you’re just another number in a long line of complaints. Ditching the script and speaking to people as human beings goes a long way towards establishing a rapport and trust.

Pick up the phone as often as possible and speak to your customer – it’s difficult to get to the bottom of any complex issues by email, and it’s impossible to read someone’s tone when from written communication, often leading to misinterpretation and the escalation of what could have been a simple issue to resolve.

Rule 4: Remain calm at all times

It’s important to remember that on average, an individual who has had a good experience with a brand will tell 3 people, versus 11 if they’ve had a bad experience. No matter how frustrated the customer becomes, it’s important to remain calm and professional. Listen carefully to what the customer has to say and allow them to say what they need to without interruption. Remember, you’re representing your company’s brand – how you handle yourself will impact the company’s long-term reputation.

Rule 5: Offer a solution

When you’ve got to the bottom of the complaint, offer a solution to the customer and promise to improve in the future. Whatever the solution is, it’s important to make it clear that you are proposing a way to make things right to restore faith in the customer and lay the groundwork for your future relationship with them. If it turns out that the customer complaint was unfounded – don’t fall into the “we told you so” trap; instead empathise with them and express an understanding of why they might have come to the conclusions they did.

Rule 6: Ask for a second chance

Once the issues have been resolved and an acceptable solution agreed, it’s OK to ask for a second chance. By saying “we’d like the opportunity to show you how we can do better” you’re again acknowledging the importance of the customer and reinforcing their feeling of value.

Rule 7: Make a change

Complaints, specifically when valid, are a fact of business and it’s important to have an internal feedback system that explores issues raised by your customer, in order to fix any internal issues and continually improve. The best businesses use customer feedback to monitor their performance, inform strategy and make key decisions relating to the customer journey.

Finally, remember that speed is everything. Following up on a complaint even 24 hours after it has been made will never be as effective as an immediate response, so having systems and alerts that let you know when someone’s unhappy can make all the difference.

By following these key customer complaint rules, it is possible to turn a negative brand experience into a customer who will sing your praises for years to come.