Small business promotion with retail speaker Tom Shay
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8 steps to solving customer complaints

Establishing a strategy for dealing with customer complaints

A small business expert once told a group of small business owners of a six step procedure to diffusing a customer's anger or disappointment. The procedure works toward not only solving the immediate situation, but hopefully creating an atmosphere which would impress the customer so they would want to again do business.

The six-step outline to follow makes sense.  There are however a couple of steps missing from the outline. That, as well as the whole idea of teaching only the owner or manager seemed to have two potential downsides.

The first downside was that the unhappy customer has undoubtedly already vented their unhappiness and frustration to one of the staff, only to hear that person tell the customer they would have to tell the whole story again to the owner or manager.

The second downside with having only the owner or manager involved sets up a situation in which the next time the customer comes in, they will probably only let the owner or manager wait on them.

From our experiences in ownership, we had a policy of requiring the staff to make all of the decisions when we were in the building.  The idea behind this was that we wanted to see how they would handle a situation.  This allowed us to achieve a level of comfort with the business, which remained with us when we were taking a day off, or taking a vacation, because we knew how our employees were going to manage the business in our absence.

Going back to those seminars of years ago, I mentioned there was a six-step procedure. It does work quite well. However, there are two additional steps, which we found almost always assured us the customer would be back, and that they would tell others about our business in a positive light. The first step was to thank the customer for coming in to tell you of the problem. Most customers will not; they will simply choose to never return to your store, and when the name of your business comes up in discussion, they will provide their reason for shopping elsewhere. Tell them thanks for being the exception and allowing you the opportunity to resolve the situation.

The second step is to listen to what they say. Even if the customer is venting loudly, it won't last for more than 45 seconds.  As you are listening to the venting, it may seem like an eternity. You can make it seem to go faster, and help to shorten it, by giving the customer an occasional, soft, "I see", or "I understand". This quick statement along with a confirming head nod, tells the customer you are listening to them and want to know all of the details.

The third step is to ask questions. Ask the customer how they were using the product, and what they had hoped would have happened.  Just like the situation when you are selling a product and asking questions, you will find that each answer from the customer gives you vital information in solving the problem.  These questions also help to soothe the customer.  As the customer now has to think for an answer, you begin to remove some of the anger or disappointment.

Taking notes is the fourth step. Something about an employee taking notes usually impresses a customer with the sincere efforts to take care of them. Step number five is to ask the customer what would be, in their opinion, a fair solution. Oddly enough, if we stopped the situation at this point and asked you what you would be willing to do for the customer, the chances are you are willing to give more than the customer is going to ask you to do.The sixth step is to tell the customer what you will do and then carry it through.

Not a bad six-step procedure. As you look at it, you will see it will cover just about any situation. However, there remains the opportunity to do more.  And by doing more, you increase your chances of having that customer become a walking advertisement for your business. Step number seven is to say, whatever you do, do it gladly. Do not have even a hint of compromise in your voice, but instead, repeat that number one step of telling the customer how much you appreciate their allowing you the opportunity to correct the situation. 

Then, quickly and with a smile, take care of the situation. The last step is truly the "above and beyond" that is practiced by the few who are the exceptional.  Remember the notes you were taking in one of the earlier steps?

Hopefully, you got the customer's name, address, and phone number during that step, and now you have the necessary information to follow up with a call or a handwritten note. The purpose is to check in to ask the customer if they are satisfied with the resolution, and again thank them for their business.

It is a "six plus two" plan, which allows you and your employees to keep those customers coming back, and telling others all the positive things about your business when they are talking with others.

Tom Shay is a fourth generation small business owner providing proven management and business building ideas through his Profits Plus Seminars, Profits Plus Solutions coaching, books authored, and articles written. Tom can be reached at 727-464-2182 or through his web site:

Profits Plus Solutions, Inc.
PO Box 1577
St. Petersburg, Fl 33731
(727) 464-2182
Fax: (727) 898-3179