If I was thinking of buying stocks and shares in a company - or more importantly buying products from them - I would try to find out how good they are at dealing with customer complaints. Many companies groan at the thought of complaining customers. More enlightened companies welcome, even encourage, complaints. Why? Because a complaining customer is providing a company with an invaluable service. At a stroke they are giving valuable feedback, quality control information and are more often than not, giving you a chance to put a problem right.
Of course, the best customer is one that is completely satisfied. The next best customer is dissatisfied and complains. The worst customer is one that is dissatisfied and doesn't complain. This last example represents a lost customer. They will not give any feedback and not allow you to put the problem right. They will simply walk away and look for a better supplier of their product.
So, how do you deal with customer complaints? It does not hurt to thank them for taking the trouble to contact you. Before you decide to investigate further, just think on this: the vast majority of customer complaints are genuine. Very few are made in order to get something for nothing. So, treat the customer with due respect from the start. We all know that many genuine complaints turn out to be errors at the customer end, especially with mechanical or electrical devices. The product may be fine but the customer doesn't know how to operate it. Before you file this away under customer error classification, ask if the customer if they found the instructions hard to follow or found the product hard to operate. Not only may you find the feedback valuable, you will also be giving some respect to the customer. If the complaint is not a customer error then, as I said, it is probably genuine. Why not assume that the customer is right and swap it or offer a refund or, at least, offer to repair it. When you or your staff get to see the product you will then know what the problem is (or isn't) and be able to adapt the product - or your approach to customers - as a result.
Thoroughly investigate their complaint. Try to do this quickly. If the investigation is dragging, keep them informed. DON'T expect them to chase you! If your investigation has upheld the customer's grievance then apologise as soon as possible. Not only that, tell the customer what you are doing to prevent the problem from being repeated. Assure them that this will not happen again and assure them that you care about the service and the products you provide.
Put it Right - Permanently
For many companies, even if they do everything right up to this point, the issue is closed as soon as the refund or replacement is processed. The promised action to prevent recurrence is not followed through. As sure as eggs is eggs, one day, the same problem will be repeated. Next time, however, you may not be so lucky: you may end up with a non-complaining customer - the worse type - and lost future sales.
The thing about the customer who complains, is that you have a chance to build a relationship with them that is beyond the normal buy and sell transaction. You can demonstrate the exceptional nature of the problem and show the customer how seriously you take such issues. The complaining customer may well buy more goods from you in future as they know you will “look after them" should a problem arise. Put simply, they will trust you.
Arkay Hygiene sells Insectocutor Fly Killers. Now this happened just ONCE: a few years ago a customer had a machine with a faulty lampholder (it holds the uv bulb in place, dummy!). No investigation was necessary: the customer said she had a faulty lampholder and that was that. No arguments. We offered to swap the product for a new one. The problem, as the customer explained, was that the fly killer unit had already been unpacked and fixed into position. We decided to despatch an engineer with a new lamp holder and he quickly got the unit back in action. This customer has since purchased many other goods from us over many years. The bond of trust between us and this customer was born from this complaint.
Vernon Stent is the marketing consultant to Arkay Hygiene which sells a range of spare parts for fly killers such as the lampholder for circline lamps.