Handle Customer Feedback Like an Absolute Pro

Getting customer feedback puts us on the spot. We’re in crosshairs of other people’s expectations. When we receive customer feedback, we’re forced to multitask; we have to acknowledge and assess the complaint; pinpoint the problem; and if possible, troubleshoot the customer’s situation; and if it can’t be solved with troubleshooting, appease the dissatisfied customer to ensure his/her return with the promise that the next experience will match the customer’s now verbalized expectations.

The feedback may be directed at you; it may be about a front-liner; it may be in the form of an email about your ad campaign; and it could be something less in your control like your supplier’s behavior or hygiene.

Handling feedback is a complex job that can be over in a matter of minutes, the speed of which can trigger a fight/flight/freeze response. In this case, we are pressured to act in self-defense, or acting to “take care of it” without thinking. Or it could cause us to “freeze,” and stand speechless, unable to do anything, annoying an irate customer further.

The unfortunate fact is we have been trained to see customer reviews as negative criticism. But this is a point of view that should be corrected, if you wish to handle customer feedback with the best in the business.

To reverse the negativity associated with customer feedback, just imagine that it could be much worse:

    1. Your dissatisfied customer could just leave your store and never do business with you again.
    2. Instead of coming to you, the irate customer could go online or tell friends.
    3. Instead of knowing about a problem, it could grow to become a chronic failure.

Truth is, customer feedback should be received with grace and gratitude because it averts the above reasons. You could see a customer who gives feedback (complains) as someone who cares enough to vocalize his/her opinion. And at the heart of every complaint is that the customer wants a better experience than the one he/she is currently  getting.

Here are some tips to help you overcome the fear of receiving a complaint and turning it into a customer service coup.

  1. Pause before speaking. Reach for a pen and paper to compose yourself. The customer is likely in a huff, with a complaint that must get off his/her  chest. It’s better to be mentally prepared, rather than rush to react to a customer who is flustered with a negative experience.
  2. Remember, it isn’t about you. The complaint is about your customer’s unmet expectations. Find out what those expectations were, and view the event through that lens, so to speak. Knowing what he/she wanted in the first place leads you to the next tip.
  3. At this point, your customer is expecting you to fix the problem. You may be pressured to take action, so take a mental pause so you don’t say or do anything rash. One way to mentally buy some time is to apologize for damaged goods or expectations, or that he/she was inconvenienced.
  4. Acknowledge the complaint. Restate his/her problem as clearly as possible to communicate a full grasp of the situation. This should give you time to work out a solution, as well as provide affirmation that you care about the complaint.
  5. Offer two solutions. One temporary and one long-term. Tell the customer what you can do for him/her right now, and say that the complaint will be addressed more systematically to ensure any company failure gets corrected and never gets repeated.
  6. Remember that pen and paper? Now would be a good time to use it and jot down the customer’s information. After all, you’ve said that his/her complaint would be acted upon. Wouldn’t the customer want to be notified once the complaint gets resolved? Whether you’re able to fix the problem or not, updating the customer on how and why (or why not) may gently introduce him/her to your company standard procedure, its stand on the issue, or brand promise.

Remember, a customer feedback system is not a punching bag with your face or your brand name on it. It’s a way to receive input that improves your company. It is important to outwardly win the customer’s confidence that you are working towards the customer’s best expectations.

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