Your business can be exceptional, but inevitably you will find someone who doesn’t agree. A customer complains. It might be through a website of online reviews or social media, or it might be worse – a loud, public scene in the middle of your business.
Customer complaints may happen. In fact, the psychology of complaints is reasonably straightforward. Once you understand why a customer is complaining, it’s easy to find the right solution, regardless of complaint type.
It’s not me, it’s them!
Before we dig too far into complaint handling, be sure you aren’t the problem. It’s natural to project issues onto others (more on this in a moment), but if you are seeing a long line of negative reviews on social media like Twitter or Facebook, or reading countless negative online reviews and commentary on websites like Google, PissedConsumer.com, Yelp, or on such forums as Reddit.com, and Quora.com, you may not have a customer complaint issue – you might actually have a customer service issue.
If you find your website being drug through the mud in Google reviews or sites like Pissed Consumer by many reviewers, your first step is to identify the problem within.
On the other hand, if your reputation is strong, but you’re still dealing with the occasional consumer reviews that feel unwarranted, you are in a terrific position to grow your brand publicly.
Why customers complain online
Customers complain for three reasons.
- It feels good and relieves stress.
- They want to commiserate with others about the issue.
- They want someone to fix it.
Those reasons are understandable, of course, but still problematic for you and your business. According to BrightLocal study, negative online reviews on review sites and other platforms can make 92 percent of customers less likely to use your business.
That’s not all bad news, however, if you are sporting a few bad reviews online. The same report shows that 96 percent of customers read the company’s response to online complaints, and about 70 percent of those customers are more likely to use a company that responds to customer reviews online.
Complaints may happen. Resolving complaints should be your focus.
General tips for handling complaints
Of course, how you resolve customer issues depends heavily on what type of complainer you’re dealing with and some basic psychology behind most complaints.
Fortunately, there are a few characteristics to look for and understand when it comes to resolving customer complaints.
- Customers will project their issues on you. As humans, we like to take credit for things when they go well. But when something goes wrong, attribution theory says that it isn’t our fault. It’s bad luck or the fault of the other guy – that’s you, in this scenario.
When something goes wrong, we often look for the closest person to blame for the issue. This seems especially true when it’s something beyond anyone’s control. Do your best to avoid likely problems by testing designs and spot-checking design and service to keep them up to a high standard.
- Customers aren’t going to change their minds. Once we decide someone is at fault, humans rarely change their minds. Blame theory tells us that customers simply decide you’re at fault and the rest of the conversation is used to determine if your business did it on purpose or just made a mistake.
The longer a discussion goes on, the farther down the path of blame a customer is likely to travel. Try to make the resolution quickly and avoid trying to justify behaviors or explain things away. Work to identify solutions that are agreeable to both parties rather than trying to force the customer to change his mind.
- Customers won’t listen to all your words. Confirmation bias often ensures we only hear what we want to hear or read as humans. If we go looking for someone to agree with us, we’ll find them – and customers will do exactly this, even if they must dig through several years of online reviews or ignore other pertinent details.
Rather than trying to correct the customer on those overlooked details or cherry-picked issues, focus on pacifying the customer and acknowledging their concern about the issue.
Make it easy for customers to complain directly to the company and treat customers and their concerns individually – don’t create a blanket policy that might make the situation worse or cause the complainer to take their issue to a public platform.
- Sometimes we just need to vent. When life gets too much, customers tend to boil over. Sometimes they are justified in their frustration – perhaps they were asked by you to call back and then were stuck on hold for an hour – and sometimes the stressors are completely out of your control, but you’re still dealing with the irate customer.
When a customer is angry, your first step is to simply listen. Let them vent and relieve some of the stress they have been feeling. You can agree with them about how frustrating being on hold is, or how annoying it is to get caught in traffic on the way to the store.
Once they have poured out their troubles and found you agreeable to commiserating, they may be fine or may need a bit of extra attention to smooth out their emotions again. So, be sympathetic, listen to the customer and react quickly.
Complaints are a part of business, so handling them professionally and sometimes publicly is a part of business as well. Accept that you will likely find yourself in the position of being blamed for things you can’t control but move on quickly. Simply find a way to compensate the customer and repair the damage as quickly and professionally as possible.