Handling Customer Complaints with Grace

The British Museum in London holds one of the earliest recorded customer complaints inscribed nearly 4,000 years ago on a Babylonian clay tablet dated circa 1750 BC.

When customers have a higher expectation of service, as in the luxury sector, the potential for customer dissatisfaction increases. I may not expect a hand-written thank-you note after purchasing a fashion ring at Macy’s, but I’d be surprised not to receive one if I bought a yellow-diamond pendant at Tiffany & Co. Because the service expectations of the luxury customer are so high, complaints need to be handled with extra care.

The goal, of course, is to prevent customer complaints altogether by listening attentively to the customer and ensuring seamless service. But things can and do go wrong, even in a luxury environment. When they do, it’s important to remember to act with grace. The dictionary defines ‘grace’ as a polite or pleasant way of behaving. It’s important to note as well, that the word ‘grace’ comes from the Latin gratia—to give thanks. Many people say grace before a meal in order to express gratitude. In the same way, a complaint can be seen as a gift. It presents an opportunity to exceed customer expectations and create loyalty. When we handle the complaint with grace, we are thankful for this gift.

When a customer is dissatisfied with your product or service, here are six steps you can follow:

  1. Listen and Understand

Listen carefully to what your customer is saying. They are expressing concern about your services. Resist the temptation of getting defensive or responding too quickly. Take the time to fully understand what expectation was not met.

  1. Apologize and Acknowledge

You do not need to agree with the customer, but you do need to acknowledge how they feel. Saying an acknowledgement such as “I’m sorry. I can see how that would be incredibly frustrating for you” confirms that you have been listening to their concerns and understand why they are upset.

  1. Ask questions

Request the customer’s permission to ask questions so you can better understand the situation and what might have gone wrong. Make sure you approach this as a genuine dialog to build trust.

  1. Offer a Solution

Offer a solution to the problem. Keep the focus on what you can do to make things right rather than dwelling on what went wrong. Explain how you will resolve or better the situation and not what you cannot do. Now is a good time to put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Here is an opportunity to exceed customer expectations and create loyalty to your brand.

  1. Resolve the problem and follow-up

Make sure the customer agrees with the solution and that you have taken care of their concerns. Thank them for bringing the problem to your attention. Follow up with the customer to ensure the solution was carried through to their satisfaction.

  1. Learn

Review the situation to see if there was something you could have done to have avoided the complaint. Was there a communication problem or does a process need to be improved? Whenever possible let your customer know that they have helped you resolve a problem and above all, be grateful!

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