I often have discussions with business owners about complaints. The reason for this is to understand how they address complaints. I believe that if a complaint is handled properly and professionally then it can change a negative situation into a positive one. I’ll share how I think complaints should be addressed:

First of all – I suggest that complaints should be handled by a senior member of the management team and the reason for this is to ensure that the complainant feels that proper attention is being given to their complaint.

However, as has been suggested to me, there is also a case for enabling customer-facing staff to deal with complaints, one of the advantages being that the complaint can be resolved there and then in many cases. I certainly take on board this point of view, and, if I may, I’ll deal with it in more detail in a later blog.

One point that will be emphasised however is the need for consistency of approach in dealing with complaints. Again thanks are due to a friend for putting forward a convenient model  – LEARN.

Listen – very important and also to listen ‘actively’, taking note of exactly what is being said and, sometimes more importantly, what isn’t being said (there’s no such thing as a standard complaint and therefore no such thing as a standard response

Empathise – put yourself in the complainant’s shoes – how would you feel?

Apologise – you may think this goes without saying but ‘I’m sorry’ goes a long way. You can be sorry that the customer has needed to complain, without necessarily agreeing on the cause of complaint

React – how you react will depend upon the circumstances. The important thing is that the complainant should feel that something has been achieved

Notify – if staff below managerial level are dealing with complaints-handling then a reporting mechanism is vital (and in all cases keeping a record of complaints is good practice).

There are lots of other models – one I’ve been notified of is the ‘Five Block Handling Model which is briefly:

Expect respect

Acknowledge complaint

Agree with complainant

Move focus to something else (rising costs, company policy)

Move from argument to agreement

With all due respect I think this is one which works in specific situations rather than generally and depends on the nature of the complaint. If the complaint was that service was poor it’s difficult to see how blaming some other factor would help.

What this does show us however is that different models fit different sectors and different businesses. I’ve said there’s no such thing as a standard complaint – there’s probably no such thing as a standard complaints-handling procedure either! You need to devise a model that works for you and your customers.

Please keep your comments coming in – on this topic or on any others!