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Sticky Situation: How to Handle Complaints

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Sticky situation:

Drriinng, beep, flashing light or vibration...Your phone rings. Oh noooo...a complaint...

Solution(s):

No matter how good you are, or think you are at your job, no matter how you control it all, it happens. It may be the faulty product or the un-respected deadline but, one thing is for sure, expectations are not met and the complainer wants you to know it.

No matter how you feel: like crawling under your desk, screaming back or calling your mommy, understand that a complaining client is a someone that has faith in you. Really, if he did not believe that you could make it right, he would just take his business elsewhere and leave.

Every complaint, including those from your colleagues and employees, is a golden opportunity, on a silver platter, to strengthen your business relationships.

No matter what our job is, we have a duty to turn that client around. As a former human resources manager, training and development consultant and etiquette expert, I teach how to satisfy the unsatisfied with the acronym G.L.A.D.L.Y.

This six-step process is uncomplicated and in my experience, works every time.

Greet the complainer, with positive and confident body language. Welcome the complaint, as a positive contributor to your evolution. Don't judge.

Listen without interrupting, with an open mind and open gestures.

To stay focused, display seriousness and at the same time control your nerves, take notes. At an opportune time, say: "I want to make sure that I don't forget anything. So, If you'll please just give me a moment, I am going to take notes."

This is powerful. Reverse the roles and think about the times when you complained. How would these words make you feel? What would they tell you? You would probably feel valued and that your complaint was being taken seriously. You may even tell yourself to calm down and to go easy on the complaint receiver.

Acknowledge the dissatisfaction and accept the responsibility to seek satisfaction.

"I understand." "I want to make this right for you." "I apologize for the inconvenience." "I see your point."


Decide, together with the unsatisfied, on how to satisfy him. Involve him. Customer satisfaction is not one policy fits all. As much as possible use SMART (Specific, Measurable, Action oriented, Realistic and Time bounded) solutions.

Whenever possible "Over-estimate and under-deliver," as inspired from the sage business advice to always "under-promise and over-deliver."

Over-estimate, by giving yourself ample extra time to cover for 'life' happens moments. Believe me, they will happen. Stretch that timeline, a little bit more. Now, for the magic part. Surprise your client by doing what you said you would do, in less than the agreed upon time. Ahhh, the client is delightfully surprised. Plus, you may get a pat on the back.

Log the event and let the others on your team know what you did. This will avoid the unsatisfied client from having to repeat his story and further increasing his frustration.

Yearn for satisfaction by following up and thanking the client for his confidence. This last step, is the mark of a true service champion. Call, email or send thank you note and reap the benefits of customer loyalty.

Psst, if you are a manager or the owner, G.L.A.D.L.Y. will only work, when:
1) Management leads and inspires by using G.L.A.D.L.Y.
2) The work environment is open to feedback.
3) The focus of all is on the client.
4) All employees that handle complaints:
* are trained on G.L.A.D.L.Y.
* know your vision and values on satisfying the dissatisfied.
* know their G.L.A.D.L.Y. power in dollars and time.

Lastly, don't take complaints personally. Take them professionally. Learn from them to move onwards and upwards through the ranks of loyalty.

Have a Sticky Situation yourself, write to julie@etiquettejulie.com and Julie will reply promptly. You can also ask your questions on her Facebook page. Planning a conference? Julie travels coast to coast to give bilingual interactive conferences and workshops.