The most important aspect of any business is the customer – without customers, your business will not succeed. And happy, satisfied customers will carry your business to great success. Knowing that, most business owners and their staff will work to make customers happy with the service and products. You can value add, offer quality products and do it all professionally for a good price. However, even the best business will have unhappy customers. They may be unhappy about something out of your control or be unreasonable, but if they are unhappy it can impact on you and your business. Complaints can be a positive! Instead of avoiding complaints and being scared of them, consider the advantages of hearing your customers’ complaints. If you make it easy for customers to come to you, you will know about their complaints and be able to do something about it. Consider their complaint as a feedback system where you can learn and improve. Have you heard the stories which say an unhappy customer will tell 10 people about their bad experience with you while a happy customer will tell only 2 or 3 about you? Think about going out for dinner. The first few people you talk to after a good meal will hear about it, but you may soon forget to mention the restaurant name. But if you are served slowly and get bad food, you will warn many friends and colleagues to avoid that restaurant. How often do you complain about a business to friends rather than to the business itself? For instance, if a customer complains that your contact details are too hard to find on your website you can be sure that others also find it hard to find those details. Now that you know about it, you can move the contact details to the front page or make the link to them more obvious. It is much easier to deal with complaints than to deal with a bad reputation because you have a number of unsatisfied customers. Dealing with complaints No matter what the complaint is or how the customer reacts, stay as calm and professional as you possibly can. Taking the complaint personally and arguing will only make you both feel worse and won’t get a positive result. The key is to listen to the customer. Ask questions to make sure you fully understand the problem and sympathise with their situation, even if you don’t think it is your fault. Just being heard will make most unhappy customers feel better about the situation. Show concern for their inconvenience and thank them for telling you about their concerns. If it’s a mistake on your part, then make sure you apologise for that, too. Most people will respect you for the apology. Find a solution with the customer. It’s no good you offering a solution that doesn’t work for the customer as that doesn’t help them. Make sure you both understand the agreed solution and write it down so no one forgets it. Determine a time frame for the solution, unless it is an immediate solution, and make sure it is done by that time. Follow up the complaint a few days later. Whether it is a call to make sure the replacement arrived, an email to say the website has been altered or a letter apologising for the error, the follow up shows you are serious about trying to fix their problem. The results Sometimes, the customers who complain can become the most loyal and positive customers for your business. Knowing that you will look after them in bad situations, they can trust you to look after them in the normal course of business. By dealing with customers calmly and with respect, even when they are complaining about your business, you will reduce the negative feedback about your business. And you get the opportunity to improve your business as well. © 2005, Tash Hughes Tash Hughes is a professional writer and co-owner of Save Time Online. Found at www.savetimeonline.info, this is an information portal for busy Australians. There is information, tips and links in categories such as business, parenting, health, gift buying and energy conservation.