Turning Client Complaints into Opportunities
A satisfied client is the sustenance of our business. If you work in a service industry, as we do, you are bound to experience client complaints. So how do we handle an upset client and keep him? Especially when we know maintaining our client’s loyalty leads to greater profitability?
Consider it this way; our best source of learning will come from our unhappy clients. Understanding the client’s experience is essential to retaining the client, and that is why complaints provide us with an opportunity to understand the client’s experience and improve our services or internal processes. Accept the advantages that client complaints give you because they’re opportunities to gain insight to improve, and bring you closer to ensuring client loyalty.
Disney’s unique knowledge about what customers want separates their reputation for client service from most of ours. In the book, If Disney Ran Your Hospital, author Fred Lee writes, “It is Disney’s consistency in the day to day execution of universally shared values and commonly desired behaviors” that sets Disney apart in the “experience and service economy.” As he says, our competition for customer loyalty is anyone the customer compares us to.1 Therefore, focusing on the client is more vital than ever because this consumerist client environment makes us vulnerable to loss of our greatest resource—our clients.
When you begin to think of complaints as opportunities to improve, you acknowledge four objectives:
2. You have an opportunity to analyze why the problem happened. By
3. You can turn a complainer into a fan because you listened and took
4. You role model the organization’s priority about the value it places
• open up a dialogue with the client
• listen to what they’re saying
• gather information
Research suggests that customers who had problems satisfactorily resolved are more loyal than those simply happy with your product.
Here are five steps you can take to make a complaining client a fan:
1. Remain calm, patient, and sincere
Clients can tell insincerity a mile away. Therefore, it is important, especially if the complaint is rooted in emotion, to remain calm, patient and sincere. This helps you stay focused as well.
2. Reframe the information you gained
Reframe the information you learned in speaking with the client in an effort to confirm that you understood the nature of their dissatisfaction. This not only allows you to verify that you have heard the client correctly, but it reinforces to the client that you are actively listening. Sometimes, I even tell the client that I don’t blame them for being upset and that I might be upset too if I had the same experience that they just described. Many times this helps soothe the client’s emotions, and serves as the bridge to allow me to offer some insight or new information that may tame their complaint or ease the severity of the emotion behind their complaint.
Ross Shafer, author of The Customer Shouts Back, writes that his company examined 1,000 letters of complaint and found that the common thread of all complaints is that customers feel an emotional impact before, during and after a transaction that upsets them.2 Clients may have emotions that cover a range of feelings from anger to rejection, embarrassment to feeling undervalued. The emotion is very specific to their perception of poor client service. In every complaint there is a sense of vulnerability. However, when you listen to the complaining client, it opens up an opportunity to communicate how much you value and appreciate their input.
3. Assess what protocol needs to change
Once you discover why your client is unhappy, it’s time to assess where the root of the problem started so you can begin to offer a solution. Listening to a client’s perspective may show you a way to a better solution. Carin A. Smith, DVM, writes the following in Client Satisfaction Pays:
“Although some clients are happy to mention their displeasure to anyone they encounter, others may withhold this information, fearing that the receptionist will get in trouble or the doctor’s feelings will be hurt. Smart veterinarians view complaining customers as an asset because they provide the opportunity to improve. Let clients know you want to hear their complaints. A threat-free environment must exist for clients or the team to feel comfortable in pointing out a problem or a mistake.”3
4. Tell the client what protocol will be changed
Once you assure the client that you understand why the client is unhappy, offer specific steps that you plan to take so that the issue doesn’t occur again. Your choice of words, communication and listening skill are important because you are trying to win back their affection, trust, and loyalty. The actions you take to address a client’s dissatisfaction in an effort to return the client to a state of satisfaction is known as “Service Recovery.” The objective is to maintain a positive business relationship with a customer. So appreciating the value of client complaints as a strategic planning tool helps the company to gather critical marketing and consumer information to improve itself.
5. Be timely (if not immediate!) in your response
Up until a few years ago, clients could tell you they were unhappy or write you a letter eschewing their dissatisfaction, but today social media makes customer dissatisfaction a brand unto itself if you are not careful. There are multiple sites for angry clients to “loudly” voice their complaints these days. Some of the sites I’ve seen include: www.complaints.com, www.thesqueakywheel.com, and www.my3cents.com. Then, of course there is Facebook and Twitter. Social media has changed the rules of engagement, and therefore, to make use of client complaints, you have to be timely in your efforts to reach out to the client to begin a discussion about their experience.
Even best-run practices will make a mistake which can lead to client dissatisfaction. However, the White House Office of Consumer Affairs suggests that 50-70% of customers who complain will do business with you again if you resolve their problem.4 Use these experiences and the steps outlined above to turn a complaining client into a fervent fan, and secure both their loyalty and continued (or increased) business.
1. If Disney Ran Your Hospital. Lee F—Second River Health Press: 2004, pp 22.
2. The Customer Shouts Back. Shafer, R—Dog Ear Publishing: 2005, pp 12.
3. Client Satisfaction Pays. Smith, C—American Animal Hospital Association Press: 2009, pp 138.