Retailers: How To Handle A Customer Complaint in Six Steps

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Have you ever tried to make a customer complaintbut been unable to?

That happened to me when I was recently speaking in Boston. I woke up to find a 4" cockroach swimming in my bathroom toilet. On the way out of the hotel later, I stopped by the front desk to let them know.

Before I could finish, the woman said, "Do you want a discount?"

"No, I thought you'd want to let housekeeping know."

"Well we can give you a free breakfast."

"No, that's OK, I would have thought..."

"It's no bother..."

I didn't even care if it was a bother!

Having worked in hospitality I know the rooms manager would have wanted to know about a cockroach doing the backstroke in a guest room toilet - It wasn't about getting a free breakfast.

And what is this obsession with free as the only way to deal with a problem?

That isn't where you start, even if it might be where you finish.

Here Are Six Easy Steps To Handle A Customer Complaint:

1. Shut up. I know that might sound gruff but when you are angry as a customer, the last thing you want is someone to jump in and offer a hasty solution. You need to get it off your chest for whatever reason; something ruined your day, you as the buyer are frustrated, something didn't work as expected - you name it. To diffuse your unhappy customer's anger and possible continuation of their frustration on social media, or when they meet a friend and tell the story, or in a letter to a supervisor, let the unhappy customer get all of their complaint out.

2. Don't second guess. Part of my retail sales training is to be in the moment. You don't want to offer your opinion of their complaint until you understand fully what it is they are complaining about. If you're unsure whether they are done, ask the purchaser if they have any other concerns. Then keep listening while looking directly into their eyes.

3. Apologize, then ask what they want. It starts with a simple apology.  No one likes having to return to a retail store for a return. Your apology at this point can go a long way, whether it's a simple return for another size or as complex as a replacement for an item purchased a year or more ago without a receipt. Whatever it is, before you jump in with both feet, stay an interested observer and discover what it is they want from you.

4. Tell them what you can do. While they might want the moon - most people are reasonable. Now is your time to shine. Know your boundaries. If you can easily give a refund - do it. If they paid with a credit card they probably know they can simply contact their issuer. Don't ruin your own day just because you have a sign behind the counter. Be the good person.

However, don't roll over if they don't have a receipt and it could be theft - give them store credit with proper ID. Be clear and say what you can do, not what you can't. Customer service training is crucially important for anyone who might handle a return. If they happen to say, I'm not authorized to do a refund, that would be the store manager, that as much as tells the shopper they will get a refund. If that's the case - why is the customer having to go through the hoops? Trust and train those who will deal with complaints so the customer only has to deal with one employee and only once.

5. Ask if they were satisfied. When the situation has been resolved, at the end of the transaction simply ask the shopper if they were satisfied. It may seem unnecessary but it opens the door for them to get rid of any leftover resentment or issue, ask a question or offer a compliment. You as a retailer end up a winner no matter what they say as they've given you one more chance to create an exceptional customer experience  or service that they can tell their friends about - and it isn't just they got their way.

6. Share how you handled it with your crew. Training how to deal with complaints isn't a learn once and its done type of learning. Every interaction is different so use the nuances, the exceptions and the positive outcomes to train at your next store meeting or store huddle before you open.

Also: The Ritz-Carlton Review: My Personal Customer Service Horror Story

In Sum

There are only a handful of retail customers who enjoy threatening, swearing and throwing a tantrum to get their way. Most buyers don't want to complain or create a scene. What they want is satisfaction that coming back to your retail establishment to get that satisfaction is indeed satisfying.

You might also be interested in these:

Customer Service: Greeting your Retail Customers
Three Retail Customer Service Tips to Grow Sales
The Seven Essentials of Retail Customer Service