Resolving complaints

When customers complain, the trigger and the reason for the complaint may be what the customer describes. The customer will be describing their transactional needs.

Transactional needs include:

  • Refund my money
  • Replace the item
  • Correct the error
  • Repair the item
  • Apologise to me
  • Match my expectations.

What they often do not convey are their emotional needs, the “hot buttons” that pushed them from being annoyed or disappointed to complaining.

Emotional needs include:

  • Reduce my feeling of helplessness, frustration and anger
  • Remove my sense of failure
  • Clear up my sense of confusion
  • Give me back my self-respect.

If hot buttons are pushed hard enough or often enough, emotional needs are often conveyed as anger.

For most staff, there is a limit to what they are authorised to do to resolve a complaint and sometimes even if they had the authority, the resolution of the complaint is out of their direct, immediate control. For example: a poor meal and service in a restaurant cannot be fixed, it cannot be taken back.

When the resolution of the problem is outside of a staff member’s control, trade-offs should be considered. For example, a discount off the meal, a voucher for another purchase, an upgrade to a higher level of service. Trade-offs are not good policy as THE response to a customer complaint; fixing the problem is a better first option. However, in many circumstances it is the only viable response.

How complaints should be resolved depends on the emotional state of the complainant and the degree of control the staff member who is being complained to, has over correcting the problem.

Degrees of control are:

  • The customer can solve the problem themselves with appropriate help and information
  • The customer needs the staff member to correct the problem
  • The staff member cannot correct the problem, as it is outside their control.

The degrees of emotional upset are:

  • Neutral
  • Emotional – sad, upset
  • Angry.

How to respond to complaints is dependent on the degree of control and degree of emotion, as depicted in Figure 1:

article - resolving complaints - response methods

Figure 1: Response methods dependent on degree of control and degree of emotion

Escalation usually becomes necessary when correcting the problem lies outside of the staff member’s control. Some organisations have clear policies for escalation and for trade-offs. If you do not understand your policy for escalation and trade-offs when fixing the problem is outside your control, ask your supervisor to clarify it for you. Having clarity around escalation and trade-offs is as important for managing customer’s expectations as it is for your confidence in dealing with a complaint.

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