Leveraging Complaints to Promote Growth

Growth | March 6, 2019
Adam Hooley

I think we can all agree that any customer-facing business will always have complaints. We all do the best we can to attend to our customer's needs however some customers don’t align with our vision or priorities, and sometimes things go wrong. Always taking the glass half full approach, I see complaints as a valuable business tool. In the large businesses that I have worked in, I’ve always headed up the complaints process. It was important to me that each complaint was able to be analyzed and resolved, with the team having had the opportunity to learn from the experience. It gives the business an opportunity the fine tune processes and customer-facing strategies. Leveraging this is a real chance to not only prevent further terminations, but also to increase the power of your customer referral network. When handled correctly, complaints can be a tactical method of increasing your net doors into the business and expanding your growth footprint.

Generally speaking, complaints come about by a difference in the service received by a client and their service expectations. There could be several drivers to this. Perhaps the client has been oversold on a product or service that the business wasn’t able to deliver on. Maybe they were not on-boarded correctly, and service expectations between the team and the customer were not aligned, or perhaps the internal processes were not documented accurately. Rather than looking at a complaint as an annoyance and bouncing it to the most tolerant person in the business, embrace it with open arms.

Break it into three categories, triage, process, and learning. How did it come about, what process failed and how can we, as a team, learn from it?

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In this blog, I’m not going to focus on how to resolve the complaint with the customer, as I’m sure you all have a good handle on how to do that. I’m going to focus on the root of the problem and what should happen internally to prevent it from happening again. Firstly consider where the complaint originated from. Was it a single event, which is often the case with a significant service disruption where it may have cost the client money, or did the frustration of the client build up over time due to an ongoing issue? It is essential to look past the face value of the complaint and ensure you have all the details to triage the complaint correctly. Once you have the origin of the complaint, you can work out how it came about in the first place.

While the origin of the complaint may vary significantly, one thing that I am always confident on is that the complaint came about because either someone didn’t follow a process or there was no process to follow. Either way, it usually always points to a process. The two most common of these is either a process was put in place to reduce the risk to the customer, and this process wasn’t followed, or a process was followed however the customer was not kept updated about it and didn’t understand the outcome. It is important to document which process failed and then you can determine the course of action. Was it recorded correctly, was it out of date or did a team member fail to follow the process?

Finally, I use this opportunity to create a case study that can be used at the next team meeting to learn from the event. I often have the team member who was directly involved in the incident. The team needs to be conformable and understand that there is no blame in this process. It is about finding the source of the problem, fixing it and sharing so others can learn from it. As part of the case study, you would document how you have resolved the process. Did it have to be reviewed? If so who is responsible for keeping the process current? Did a team member not follow it correctly? If so is there a way to encourage team members not to shortcut the process?

Using this process has three benefits to the business. The method itself can be used as a sales tool to promote the way the company uniquely handles each complaint to learn. It also prevents continued mistakes preventing many termination cases, reducing attrition, and finally, it lifts the quality of your service which will turn existing clients into advocates for your business creating a constant stream of client referrals. Next time you receive a complaint, document it as a learning tool for your team and leverage the growth opportunities for your business.

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