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The Complainer: Dealing with Problematic Customers

15 Aug, 2002 By: Ronelle Ingram imageSource

The Complainer: Dealing with Problematic Customers

am never doing business with your company again. Fax me a written documentation
of that outrageous price you just quoted me for repair. I will save it, to shove
it in the face of the next salesman from your company who walks through my door
asking for my business!”

heard it all before. Customers who are upset, demanding, threatening, and
breathing fire & brimstone. Some people provide a little more drama than
others. This particular customer has threatened me for ten years. In the
beginning, I accepted her words as truthful. Over time, I have come to realize
this is the way this particular office manager chooses to negotiate with her

our first encounter, her demands and accompanying threats were rewarded by me
giving her $50 worth of free toner. Through the years, I grew accustomed to her
chastisements of my company and her demands for free products. At some point, I
learned that she would react the same, whether or not I gave into her
extortionist demands. She still continues to do business with us and manages to
find fault with everything we do.

way a customer complaint and how it is handled, can make the difference between
the profitable-successful company and the want-to-be struggling businesses. Each
company’s philosophic beliefs on how customer complaints are handled can
ultimately result in the long-term viability of your company.

customer who writes a letter of complaint probably has:

   1. Hit a
roadblock when dealing face to face with your company’s representative.

    2. Had their telephone calls ignored.

    3. Planned to take legal action and wants to have a paper

    4. No power or status within his or her own company.

    5. Become a newly hired manager who is trying to prove
something to someone.

    6.A complex, and is an inherent bully who tries to take
advantage of others for their own benefit.

each case, the complainer is requesting attention and validation of self-worth.

Is Not The Answer

simplest way to make a customer happy and retain their repeat business is to
refund their money, or give them something for free. However, paying off the
complainer is usually not the best business decision. You are setting yourself up to
be extorted or blackmailed by your customer in the future. You will teach your
customers to find fault, create unrest, and look for loopholes in hopes of being
rewarded for being a complainer.

proactive manager must face complaints straight on. A problem, when viewed as an
opportunity to increase revenue, can be a seen as a warm call. The customer who
complains is usually in need of something your company sells. Upgrading is the
natural extension of a compliant handled properly.

find that billable (time and material or charge call) customers always seem to
complain more than our maintenance agreement (or CPC) or prepaid customers. It
seems to be an adversarial posturing from the onset of the chargeable service
call. Out of self-preservation, my staff and I have learned to over estimate the
cost of anticipated work for the incessant complainer. This allows us to be able
to quickly give-in to their demands for lower prices or providing additional
services at no additional charge.  

Is Golden

When interacting with a complaining customer, I listen and listen and listen,
some more. I let the complainer have their say. When there is a pause over
3-seconds (which is an eternity), I interject with, “I can understand your
concern.” Normally, the customer will repeat everything three times. It
is just human nature. Three repetitions seem to clear the soul and lessen the

the customer does have a legitimate concern, I treat their request with great
importance and urgency. If I am not familiar with the problem, I always ask the
customer for a specific amount of time to look into the situation. I promise a
return call or e-mail within a given period of time. Asking what time the caller
goes to lunch or goes home, sets a feeling of caring, as well as giving you a
comfortable time period for returning the call.

you have not managed to acquire the needed information at the appointed time for
the return call, call back or e-mail to let the customer know you are still
working on the problem. Remember, the customer is usually more interested with
you showing them respect and concern, than immediately fixing the perceived

possible, ask the customer to fax or e-mail any pertinent information they have.
This can save you hours of hunting for the backup information. Always preface
this request with, “I will be better able to quickly track down a solution to
your situation if you can fax or e-mail me any information you have regarding
your concern.” If they don’t have the needed information, make sure you fax
the customer the collaborating information, once you have tracked it down.
Always ask for their fax number, explaining you will send them the information
for their files.

love the reassurance of exchanging paper work or e-mail. It is proof that
reality is emerging from history, or that one of you is very organized. Always
thank the customer for helping you solve their problem. Agree that your computer
billing system is very difficult to understand. “We are updating our software,
please bare with us,” is a universally accepted answer for any computer

The Complainer’s Tone

“I agree with you,” always changes the tempo of a complainer’s
conversation. When you do realize a problem has occurred, take the full blame
personally. Call the customer, before they have a chance to call you. Follow-up,
with a short note with your business card included. End your conversation
restating your name, telephone number, and reassuring them that if they leave a
voicemail, you will get back to them promptly.

let people know my current schedule by changing my voicemail greeting each day.
Customers feel very reassured that there is timeliness attached to your

your staff to be able to differentiate between the chronic complainer and the
customer who has a genuine concern that needs to be addressed in a timely
manner. A personal apology and prompt righting of the wrong, can actually
strengthen the loyalty of a customer with a complaint.

the problem is identified and solved, use it as a learning situation. How can
your employees be better trained to eliminate this problem from happening in the
first place? What internal company procedures need to be changed to prevent
similar situations from happening in the future?

the complaint letter, call, or e-mail as a guidepost for monitoring internal
conditions that need to be improved. Every complaint is an opportunity to
up-grade, sell a new product, servicing agreement, or additional supplies. A
customer who takes the time to complain, will stay with your company if the
complaint is handled properly.

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