A business never wants to hear that its customer has had a negative experience. Sometimes we react poorly to complaints. It’s easy to become emotionally invested in the incredible effort you know your team provides every day. So when you learn of a problem, why do you get all weird?
There are five common and predictable behaviors when responding to critical feedback.
1. Shoot the Messenger. Discrediting and disparaging the customer is NEVER the right thing to do when responding to an issue. But we tend to go there. We may think to ourselves, ‘what did the customer do to create this problem?’ Lobbing accusations disguised as questions will only make matters worse as your customer will sense you are trying to avoid responsibility. But why do we do it? We’re trying to shift the blame off ourselves to the other person making them responsible. It’s a way to protect your ego. This is a fast way to escalate an issue in a negative direction.
Instead, you should listen to the customer’s complaint and thank them for sharing. Next, sincerely apologize for the frustration your customer is experiencing. Now, share your interpretation of the issue and ask if you understand it correctly.
After the complaint is handled, refrain from trash-talking your customers with your colleagues. This toxic behavior creates an environment in which placing the blame on customers is normal or even celebrated. Once negative chit-chat has a foothold in your customer service function, it will turn into the poor treatment of your customers. It may be enticing to vent but resist the urge.
2. Treat it as a Threat. Is this complaint going to get you in trouble? If so, it’s very likely you’ll respond by narrowing your focus. You may go so far as to believe that the complaint is patently untrue. You may start closing down and tuning out your customer. It’s natural to try and protect yourself.
Instead, take a pause and acknowledge that you’re having a hard time hearing this complaint. If you feel you’re getting too emotional, ask the customer for an opportunity to take some time and process the information and get back to them. If you have other colleagues or a manager who can be impartial, ask them to step in.
3. Change the Information. When hearing difficult news, people’s instinct may lead them to change the information rather than change their behavior, product, or service. This is especially true when we believe that the customer’s perspective is inaccurate. It can lead to you challenging, debating, or dismissing your customer’s concerns. This pitfall is especially troublesome in customer service because it could mean that the support you provide is the support your customer does not need or want.
Instead, always confirm your understanding of the issue with your customer. At the end of your interaction, make sure to ask, ‘have I addressed all your concerns today?’ This simple phrase helps ensure you’ve addressed their complaint fully.
4. Replay It. Nearly everyone can recall a time when they didn’t handle a customer complaint in the best way possible. Sometimes we can take things a step too far. You may become hung up on the interaction replaying it in your head over and over. Our brains are wired to remember negative things more strongly than positive ones. Don’t get stuck replaying a negative experience.
Instead, look at the interaction from a growth mindset. This is your opportunity to learn and set new expectations for yourself. Acknowledge that the situation was challenging and your performance was not the best. Identify how you would handle this issue in the future and share it with others who could benefit, such as team members. Draw inspiration and celebrate the successes of your colleagues when they handle difficult complaints.
5. Shop for Confirmation. The final pitfall is especially dangerous for business owners and managers. When you hear critical feedback from a customer, you may seek a way to refute or neutralize that rejection. It’s only natural to seek out those who will affirm your businesses’ value and goodness. In shopping for confirmation, a person will quite literally move away from those who are critical and find others who provide positive affirmation. A business owner may stop serving specific populations, change the availability of their products, or modify their marketing to target consumers who will be more receptive without considering the complaint’s merits.
Instead, take time to fully consider a complaint before making significant changes to your strategies. Is there a grain of truth in their feedback? Can you address their criticism without compromising your product or service? Understanding how we respond to complaints helps us provide excellent customer service. Receiving and accepting complaints is a particular skill that takes time and effort to cultivate. Avoid these five pitfalls and improve your ability to handle complaints.