How to handle customer complaints

By Beth Caron

I'm excited to share with you a guest post from Great Clips Director of Communication, Tammy Nienaber, on an extremely important topic for any business: customer service. Service-based businesses, like Great Clips, thrive on getting customers to return again and again. So, how do we do that even if we receive a complaint?

What is the number one goal of a service business? Without a doubt: customer satisfaction.

Let’s face it—100 percent customer satisfaction is a worthy but unattainable goal. While we strive for perfection, we recognize there is no such thing. There will be complaints. A recent retail survey showed that approximately one in four purchases goes wrong, for one reason or another.

What’s scary is that most of those unsatisfied people won’t say a word about their complaint. They simply won’t be repeat customers. Great Clips franchisees and salon staff depend on—actually, let’s make that thrive on—return customers. So when those customers complain, we should probably be grateful because it means we have the opportunity to make things right. (Granted, it’s not always easy to see the positive side of that opportunity, is it?)

How do we do that? How do we handle complaints so the customer comes back again and again?

Start with common sense—and common courtesy. Say you’re sorry and mean it. In and of itself, a sincere apology goes a long way toward resolving dissatisfaction. That’s the number one piece of advice from Tom Peters, an expert in customer service excellence, who says there is “something magical” about the words “I’m sorry.” (Peters was quoted in a recent article at entrepreneur.com.)

This is right in line with Great Clips’ mission of making customers feel connected, cared for and in control. We want stylists to communicate that feeling not only in words, but also in attitude and body language. A genuinely caring culture sets Great Clips apart from other salons.

Human nature being what it is, a customer with a complaint may need to vent, even after you apologize. Let them, and follow up with this question: “What would you like me to do?” If at all possible, try to give them what they request.

Perhaps the hardest part of any interaction with a disgruntled customer is to make sure the response is sincere. So many of the complaints in a service industry are repetitive and it’s easy to show exasperation with body language that says, “I’ve heard this before.”

Several of the Seven Deadly Sins of Customer Service focus on those non-verbal messages. Instead of making things better, non-verbal messages can magnify the damage. Here are two of my favorites—or maybe I should say my least favorites.

• Apathy—when an employee doesn’t seem to care about the customer’s question or complaint, or responds with a lack of emotion or interaction. Great Clips stresses the importance of person-to-person connection, especially when the customer is unhappy. I’m convinced this is a key reason people keep coming back and entrusting us with their hair.
• Coldness—even worse than apathy. One symptom is when an employee fails to acknowledge that the customer has a legitimate complaint, or maybe acts like it’s a nuisance.

One of Great Clips corporate values is to be kind. Our expectation for how customer complaints are addressed is one way we embody that value. Not to mention it makes good business sense, increasing the success of our franchisees in everything from customer counts to employee engagement to staff productivity.

And who could complain about that?

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