Seven best-practice ideas for complaint handling in writing
Every letter, social media message or email that goes out from your customer service team has your company’s brand in the signature line, it puts your service reputation in view. Here are some tips dealing with customer service complaints and issues in writing.
Read the customer’s email in its entirety
46% of consumers opening emails from companies are frustrated to discover that their question(s) was not answered. This often happens because employees stop at the first problem described in the email, and they skim the rest. Read the entire email before typing or writing anything.
An excellent way to ensure you respond to every question in the customer’s email is to copy the customer’s email and paste it into your reply back. After pasting the customer’s content into your reply, go paragraph by paragraph through the customer’s email and type your response after each of the customer’s paragraphs. You are, in essence, taking the customer’s email and breaking it into little workable chunks and easily addressing every single issue. (After addressing the customer’s questions completely, delete the pasted paragraphs.)
Open your email with thank you
A lot of companies begin complaint response emails with: “We have received your email dated…” Don’t do this. The fact that you’re responding to the email is irrefutable proof that you have received the customer’s email. Instead of wasting words, immediately go into a response designed to restore the customer’s confidence and regain their goodwill.
My favourite approach to beginning a complaint letter is to begin by expressing appreciation for the feedback. Here are some ways to express appreciation for customer feedback:
“Thank you for taking the time to write to us.”
“Thank you for your email. We appreciate customers who let us know when things aren’t right.”
“Thank you so much for taking the time to write to us. We appreciate the opportunity to clarify what we think has happened.” (This is ideal for a response email to a customer who is actually responsible for the error or when you cannot honour the customer’s request for a refund or exchange.)
Most company replies to emails that describe problems do not include an apology. To not apologize to a customer who has experienced a problem is to miss an opportunity. Making an apology to customers after things go wrong is positively related to satisfaction with the company’s “recovery.” When your employees apologize to customers (in writing), they convey politeness, courtesy, concern, effort, and empathy.
Let me let you in on a little secret: an apology doesn’t have to be an admission of fault. And it’s not even about placing blame. The whole point is to convey that you genuinely care about how the customer was treated and to regain goodwill. I believe in apologizing to the customer whether the problem they experienced was a result of an act of nature, a third party, or even the customer. It goes without saying that I believe that we must apologize, when the problem is the fault of the company.
Explain why or how the problem happened
A vital, but often overlooked element of customer recovery is to provide an explanation for how or why the problem happened. Taking the time to explain to a customer what might have caused the problem helps organizations re-establish trust.
In an article titled Manage Complaints to Enhance Loyalty, John Goodman says, “In many case, a clear, believable explanation as to why the policy or performance is reasonable will at least mollify the customer and, in some case, satisfy him or her.”
Providing an explanation can be as simple as saying, “Thanks for taking the time to let us know about _____. We appreciate customers who let us know when things aren’t right.”
Customers will always appreciate you taking the time to explain why the problem occurred and again, this gesture on your part helps to re-establish trust.
Offer compensation if applicable
When the problem is clearly the fault of the company, recompense (in the form of discounts, free merchandise, refunds, gift cards, coupons, and product samples) will help you restore customer confidence and regain goodwill. Our research has found that 58% of complaining consumers who received something in the mail following their contact with the company were delighted, versus only 40% of those who did not receive anything.
Don’t hold back when it comes to compensating customers after a service failure. Your reward will be increased customer satisfaction, loyalty, and powerfully persuasive positive word-of-mouth advertising.
Proof your email!
Grammar gaffes make your company look bad. You and I both know spell check (and even grammar check) won’t catch everything. You are going to have to invest a little time to read and re-read every line of your emails to make sure they look and read professional. Here are some hard and fast email proofing tips:
- Point with your finger and read one word at a time. Yes, this will take some time, but you’ll be amazed at how many mistakes you capture this way.
- Read your email aloud and silently.
- Proof for only one type of mistake at a time. Do one read through just for punctuation, another for word usage, and another for accuracy of your message.
- Print your email out and read it.
- Start at the final paragraph of your email and read it backwards.
Respond as quickly as reasonably possible
The average company takes two days (48 hours) to respond to a customer’s email. This is not okay with customers. You need to shoot for responding to emails within 2-4 hours. Is this easy? No, but you need to align your processes and manpower to make it happen.
And here’s why: A speedy response in writing will improve your corporate credibility with consumers and it boosts customer satisfaction. Research shows the longer it takes for companies to respond to email complaints, the greater the customer’s perception that they have been treated unfairly. Every email that goes out from your customer service team has your company’s brand in the signature line, it puts your reputation on the line, and it forms a binding document between you and the customer.
Make sure your message is professional, actively works to regain customer goodwill, and is free of embarrassing gaffes. Follow these simple seven steps and your emails will bless you, rather than curse you.