As a nation, we have come to expect nothing but the highest-quality customer service from all our service providers.
With such high expectations, it’s inevitable that nearly every small business owner will have to deal with customer complaints in their day-to-day business life. Most complaints come when you least expect them, so it’s important that you and your employees are prepared and empowered to respond in an attentive and professional manner.
Sounds like basic common business sense, doesn’t it? However, it is all too common for a business owner and his or her staff to clam up, lose their cool, or mishandle the diversity of complaints that might come their way.
In a stressed economy, small business owners simply can’t afford to be in a position where they don’t know how to handle customer complaints. Your customer service policy and actions are an extension of your brand – and, as such, the effective handling and resolution of customer complaints provide the potential to generate more positive (and free) word-of-mouth marketing for your business.
Here are some tips that can help you develop a fair and equitable customer service policy that keeps you and your customers happy.
1. Research what Customer Service Means in your Industry
Brainstorm with your employees, business partners, and even customers as to what constitutes good customer service. Check out what your competitors are doing in this regard; you don’t have to ask them, just check out comparable business Web sites or online businesses. Most companies publish their customer service policies online.
2. Make a Commitment to Customer Service and Communicate that Commitment
Once you have defined what quality service means in your business and to your customers, make a commitment to it. This usually means writing and publishing a customer service policy. It also means sharing it with your employees. Have a team meeting to communicate your policy. You could even use role play or do a quick test to make sure the message resonates. You want to empower you employees to be able to respond – they are on the front lines and as such should be capable first responders!
Don’t forget to tell your customers about your customer service policy – if you have an online business this is critical. And remember, your commitment to customer service is also an important marketing message – use it to differentiate yourself in your marketing communications.
3. Act on Your Customer Service Policy
In essence, this means the following:
- Be available to address a complaint
- Listen and ask for clear specifics (unhappy customers often lose sight of the actual complaint and can often generalize; help them help you)
- Apologize – This sounds so obvious, but it so often overlooked in the rush to resolve or explain away a complaint.
- Fix the Mistake – If the error is yours, you must address it. This means making it right, but it also means providing some token of restitution (amend the receipt, or offer a discount off their next purchase – whichever you choose, be sure to use that token consistently across your customer base).
- Follow-up – Do some investigation of your own to understand the reasons for the complaint; this will help you make sure it doesn’t happen again.
4. Preventing and Dealing with More Serious Complaints – Understand the Law
More serious complaints can sometimes lead to the intervention of the law. For example, if a customer feels that you have misrepresented your product, service or price in your advertising you could face costly lawsuits or penalties. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the main federal agency that enforces advertising laws and regulations. Check out these resources and how-to guides from the government to help small business owners comply with federal truth-in- advertising laws.
If you do any kind of online business or marketing, you’ll also need to familiarize yourself with Online Advertising Law to help protect yourself from complaints of abuse of CAN-SPAM Act regulations. The same goes for telemarketing law.
- Tips for Handling Customer Complaints (MyBusiness Magazine)
- The “LRI” of Customer Service (OPEN Forum by American Express)
- 4 Steps to Managing Your SMB’s Online Reputation (Small Biz Trends)