Front foot first is the best way to handle complaints

3 mins

In a perfect world, your practice would never receive a complaint. But in reality, complaints are a normal part of doing business.

Here, we consider opinions from leading industry professionals on what to do if you receive a complaint to turn a customer with a grievance into one that’s delighted with your services.

David Smith, founder of practice management specialist advisers Smithink, says the way to deal with a complaint often depends on its nature. “Address complaints with absolute honesty and transparency. If the complaint is legitimate, the first thing you should do is acknowledge it. Say you made a mistake, then look at the way you’re doing things and make changes to the business to ensure the mistake never happens. Also, give assurances it won't happen again.”

A different approach may be taken if the complaint is illegitimate, he says. “If it's somebody having a beef, engage with them one-on-one to try to understand it better, make certain you’ve understood their issue and try to have a face-to-face meeting with the individual. The difficulty is, quite often, they don't want to engage. But do attempt to find out more to see how you can deal with the issue the person faces.”

Smith says it’s easier to deal with emailed complaints compared to those posted in the public forum of social media. “If a complaint is posted on social media, acknowledge in that instance the business’s processes didn't work as well as you may have hoped. Then communicate you have made changes to the business to ensure the situation has been rectified. Also let the person who has made the complaint know you appreciate them bringing it to your attention.”

Customer experience expert Frances Pratt from Metisan advises following a set procedure to handle complaints. The first step is to acknowledge you have received one.

“Explain you want to understand the complaint properly so you can deal with all elements. Ask questions about the customer’s experience and dig a little to understand the logical and emotional reasons for the complaint,” she says. “Often, people just want to be heard.”

Then, clearly explain the process you will follow now that the complaint has been brought to your attention. “Tell them what you intend to do to fix the problem and give them a clear timeline about when they will hear back from you,” Pratt says.

Pratt says it’s also important to ask their permission to proceed and to always do what you say you are going to do. “When complaints are well handled you can improve clients’ perception of the value of your services and increase their trust in you and your processes.”

Business coach Daniel Tolson says most clients will become repeat customers if their problem is solved immediately. 

“Speed is the critical element of outstanding customer service. The faster you respond to customer complaints, the more you build customer loyalty, and the more likely the customers will buy again and recommend their friends,” Tolson says.

Best practice complaint handling

Leading industry experts suggest that one of the worst things a business can do when it receives a complaint is ignore it.

“Putting your head in the sand or failing to acknowledge it is not the way forward. Sometimes advisers become concerned they will be the subject of legal proceedings if they do acknowledge a mistake. But professional integrity is to always be open and honest about these things,” Smith says.

Tolson also says it’s important for advice businesses not to view complaints as an attack. “Most business people fear criticism and rejection. So, when we hear a complaint, a common response is to see it as a personal attack.”

Rather than going on the defensive, a better approach is to appreciate the feedback, he says. 

“Your first response should be to say thanks for the complaint. Most unhappy customers don’t even bother telling the business they are unhappy. So, when one does put their hand up to say they are dissatisfied with the level of service, it shows the customer cares enough about you and your company that they want to share their feedback with you. They do not have to, but they want to because they care.” 

So use a customer complaint as an opportunity to improve your service levels and turn an unhappy client into a raving fan.

Depending on its severity, advisers operating under a licensee should also consider bringing the complaint to the licensee’s attention.  

“The licensee will have rules about complaint handing with which advisers should comply. But also draw on your licensee’s experience. When you receive a complaint or have any other issue, always pick up the phone and talk to the licensee to seek their advice.”

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