Five Ways to Extinguish Complaints from Hell

Your ultimate nightmare: despite your best efforts to sell the right insurance or investment product, your client is now unhappy about how things turned out. In the good old days, the person might scream at you and then badmouth you to 10 other people. Today, the person might also post his complaint on the Internet, where it will be seen by prospects who are Googling you before doing business. Complaint from Hell, meet marketing fiasco!

In Part I of this series, we said the best way to avoid this problem is to prevent complaints before they occur. How? By doing business by the book, acting with professionalism, exceeding client expectations, becoming a great communicator, and always doing what’s best for your clients.

But the problem is, you can do all of these things and still end up with a complaint. The challenge then is to keep it from going viral on the Internet, where it can do irreparable harm to your reputation. Here are five surefire strategies to implement as soon as a complaint arises.

Listen first, talk later. When a client calls you to complain, resist the urge to speak. We know . . . this isn’t easy to do. But if you can restrain yourself, you will have won half the battle. So as you let the client vent, listen very carefully. Also, try to discuss the complaint in person rather than over the phone or through e-mail. You’ll get a much better read on its severity AND demonstrate your heartfelt concern.

Apologize, then empathize. After the client has finished venting, make a sincere apology. Even if you feel you have done nothing wrong, apologize anyway. This will go a long way toward defusing the situation. Then after you apologize, say you understand the person’s frustration and are willing to resolve the situation.

Uncover the facts. Now, grab your pen and notepad and start fact-finding. What is the client’s central gripe? What happened exactly? Why? Were you or your staff to blame or was it a case of the client’s expectations being out of synch. Don’t defend the facts; just document them.

Reflect your understanding back to the client. Next, make sure your impression of the event matches up with the client’s. Say something like, “What I heard you say is X. Does that sound about right to you?” If it doesn’t, clarify where the understanding gap lies and then reflect the revised facts back to the client.

Take action now. If you know how to resolve matters, commit to doing so now. If you don’t, promise to do some research and then get back to the client with a satisfactory resolution in a reasonable and specific number of days.

But here’s the most important tip of all. Whether you did anything wrong or not, do the ethical thing and own the complaint. Avoid anger and verbal criticism, and do what it takes for an elegant win-win resolution. By taking responsibility and committing to a fair outcome, you will make sure the complaint from hell gets resolved quickly—and stays off the Internet, Not only that, you’ll also make sure it doesn’t become a full-blown errors-and-omissions lawsuit.

Restoring client satisfaction and not getting sued—it doesn’t get better than that.

Visit our Ethics Headqurters for more informational resources.