How a company investigates and handles its customer complaints says a great deal about how that company values its customers and its own business reputation. Properly handled, complaining customers can turn into the company’s best spokespeople, while wrongly managed complaints can result in severe damage to a company's image. This damage is most noticeable when a dissatisfied customer goes forward with formal charges ending up in a courtroom. To minimize these worse case scenarios, adopt and follow some steps to resolve complaints as amicably as possible.
Be sure the complaint warrants further investigation first. Make the decision about the seriousness of the matter. Base your decision on potential problems that may arise, as well as what is already obvious. Do not tie up company time and resources with frivolous, scam attempts from the public.
Interview the company employee who is directly involved with the complaint as quickly as possible. Get all the facts from the worker’s point of view first. Lead the worker through the entire event in the order it is supposed to have occurred. Record the interview with the worker’s knowledge.
Interview the complainant thoroughly. Lead them through the entire event by asking them to tell the complete story. Take the time to listen carefully to what the customer is saying. Do not ask him leading questions, but rather ask direct-response questions. Record this exchange as well.
Do not agree or disagree with the customer during the interview, even when you know he is saying something that is probably not true. Do not sympathize with the complainant or make any rash promises or guarantees. Tell the customer that his complaint will be looked into thoroughly, and the company will contact him shortly with its solution.
Compare the two different accounts. Make notes of any discrepancies between the two recollections of the event or incident that triggered the complaint. Speak directly with each party privately to resolve the two differing points of view. Look for and pay particular attention to any changes of the versions of the event when they are retold.
Document everything that happens. Use video recordings, if at all possible. Take advantage of the body language evidence only revealed in video recordings.
Go back and study the confirming round of interviews carefully. Make your decision as to how to best resolve the customer complaint based on the best available evidence at the time. Lean toward placating the customer in your decision, if you can do so without violating any established company policies. Be fair, firm and prepared to move forward, if need be, with the company’s decision.
Be supportive of the employee involved, but require professional behavior.
Be wary of customers who complain frequently.
Chuck Brown is a freelance writer and former teacher and athletic coach. He has held professional stints as a business owner, personal fitness trainer, curriculum designer, website designer, market trader and real estate investor. Brown holds a bachelor's degree in English and a master's degree in Christian counseling.