An unhappy customer can be a real challenge. Sometimes they are just so full of fury that it can be hard to see how the complaint can be diffused.
It makes it even more challenging when your organisation has done something that is clearly wrong and the customer is justified in making a complaint. However, often the most difficult complainer to manage is one you work with – maybe a colleague, a member of staff or even your manager.
So what are the do’s and don’ts of managing a complainer?
1. Ask questions to establish facts
It is a very real human need to be understood. Most complainers are trying to make themselves heard and understood, and until they feel as though this has happened the complaints and emotional outpouring will continue. By asking questions and showing a real interest in the complainer’s situation you are offering this understanding and you should notice an almost immediate reduction in their rage.
2. Don’t raise your voice or show aggravated body language
When someone is complaining, they’re typically in an emotional state; and in these situations, body language has a much bigger effect than say in a more cognitive and reasoned interaction in which the focus is more on the words that are spoken.
If you raise your voice, take an aggressive or closed stance or stand over a complainer they are likely to see this as you initiating a confrontation, even if they started hostilities. It is much better to offer a calm, relaxed tone, and offer an open and welcoming stance.
Sometimes it can help to offer the complainer somewhere to sit. Try and communicate a position of calmness and control. If you work with someone who is aggressive and won’t listen you may need to be tough, assertive and maintain a position of strength.
3. Don’t escalate by being defensive
It is easy to feel attacked by a complainer, especially if they are aggressive with accusations, tone of voice, etc. You must try and keep your mind on how to change the situation.
Reacting emotionally and defensively to someone who is emotional will make matters worse. Instead, you can offer to take responsibility for fixing the problems.
You don’t have to admit fault, but you can offer an apology for the fact they’ve been mistreated in some way, or simply that you are sorry they are so upset. A simple ‘let’s try and resolve this’ goes a long way.
4. Don’t be vague with help
It is so infuriating for someone with a complaint to receive a generic or vague answer to their problems: “I’ll pass it onto the manager” or “We’ll get someone to look at it” provides no satisfaction at all. It is much more effective to say, “I will personally follow this up and make sure that your problem is addressed.”
Eve Ash has created two hilarious new comedy films: Managing a Complainer and Diffusing Anger that can be used for to kick off a training session on topics like interpersonal skills, anger management, managing difficult people or service skills. Eve has produced a wide range of video and book resources (www.7d-tv.com) on building confidence and interpersonal skills. Eve’s two books can Rewrite Your Life! and Rewrite Your Relationships! and can be helpful when negative thoughts drag you down.