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Gathering feedback.

This is a short post. When I decided what I’d cover on the subject of complaints, I didn’t do that great of a job. However, I’m willing to admit my mistakes and go with the posts anyways. Some ways to gather feedback:

Have a feedback button.
Maybe this is too obvious. However, if your site doesn’t already, have a feedback button. Ask users for their feedback regularly and respond to feedback when customers provide it. Don’t have a message like: “Thank you for your feedback. Please note that we will not respond.” That’s just annoying and will discourage customers from submitting feedback.
Read this article.
I think I’ve referred to this article several times in the last few days. If you haven’t already, read this article about keeping your enemies closer.

Keep your friends close.
You should also ask people who like your company and everything it does for their feedback. If they think something is wrong, chances are it’s really wrong and needs fixing as soon as possible. When loyal customers complain, things are bad and the company should start shifting its focus to improving whatever those customers are complaining about.

Like I mentioned in the above linked post, take regular surveys of random amounts of customers. If you always ask your best customers, you’ll miss some important feedback. Ask random samples of customers to get the best results.

How are we doing?
After support requests are close, send a quick “How are we doing?” survey. Ask how the overall support experience was, how friendly the representative was, etc. There’ll be posts in the future about what to include in these surveys.

If you read the post about keeping your enemies closer and actually try to get customers’ feedback, you’ll do fine. Remember that feedback is important and it’s your customers that are essentially paying the bills (including your salary).

Using Complaints to Your Advantage

If you can’t think of a way to use complaints to your advantage, you need to think harder. There’s countless ways to use complaints your company receives to your advantage.

Find Things That Need Fixing
Getting a lot of complaints about your technical support department? Then, it needs fixing. Some things to consider:

  • You may more and/or better technical support employees.
  • Your employees may need more training before starting to answer customers’ questions.
  • The process your customers have to go through to submit technical support inquires may be too complicated.
  • Time to hire someone to improve your technical support department – whether it be a customer service consultant or new department manager.

From the actual complaints you’re getting, you’ll get a good idea of what exactly has to be improved. Then, if you think about it, the ways to fix the problem may not be so far off.

If you are receiving complaints about a specific issue that is found in all departments of your company, it may be time to consider other options as well. For example, if customers complain about frequent service outages, you may need to:

  • Improve or add additional infrastructure
  • Hire (additional) or better administrators dedicated to preventing downtime
  • Have better plans and systems in place to handle downtime

Is it worth it?
The question to ask yourself when deciding if it’s worth investing time, money, and other resources is: “Is this issue as a whole really causing us to lose customers and our reputation?” If your reputation is going down hill and you’re losing customers, it’s time to address complaints.

Of course, be sure to read this article about keeping your enemies closer.

Dealing With Complaints

I decided to split the topic of “Dealing with complaints and using them to your advantage” into two posts. Tomorrow’s post will talk about how to use complaints to your advantage.

A good part of dealing with complaints is covered in the previous post. That explains how to deal with a complaint. Though the previous post primarily addresses the etiquette of dealing with complaints, there’s some more things to consider.

Log and categorize.
Log and categorize all complaints. Use the categories appropriately. For example, if the customer complains about both customer service and billing support, put a copy of the complaint in both folders. (The Web 2.0 term would be tagging.) The better you categorize these issues, the more of an idea you’ll have about what you need to improve.

Record all complaints.
You should record every complaint. Even if the customer mentions something subtle like “Response was a bit slow, but I guess you did respond.” record that just like you would a three page letter talking about slow response times.

Include what was done.
In your file of complaints, record a note about what was done to resolve each issue. That way, employees can search through the database of customer complaints and see how they were handled. You’re essentially created a knowledge base of complaints.

The other big parts of dealing with complaints is responding to and following up on complaints. Those will be covered later in the series. A very short post today, but I can’t put the entire series in one post – that’d ruin it for everyone.

New Category: There’s a new category called behind the scenes. This talks about what your company can do behind the scenes to improve customer service and the customer service experience.

While A Customer Complains

Yesterday I introduced the series on complaints, so today is the first real article in the series. What should you do while a customer is complaining? It’s not that complicated if you think of it, but a lot of things in customer service aren’t – they’re just harder to do than say.

The main thing to keep in mind is that when a customer is complaining – he or she is mad, frustrated, and quite likely, angry. Chances are the customer won’t act very logically, consider both sides of the story, be as friend as usual, or anything of that nature.

Now, for the tips.

Be nice.
It’s the ultimate rule of customer service, and certainly the ultimate rule of dealing with angry customers. Be nice. Even if the customer is being rude to you, explain to him or her that being rude won’t get anyone anywhere and to try and be nice as well. Chances are the customer will calm down if you’re calm.

Be considerate.
Be sure to actually listen to your customer’s problem and try to genuinelygenuine help him or her. If the customer senses that you’re not really listening and not caring, they’ll start getting rude and screaming. No one wants that, so try and care about the customer’s problem or find someone in your company who will and have them handle customer complaints.

Another important part of handling customer complaints is to constantly apologize. Apologize about any inconveniences caused, money lost, etc. Again, make your apologies genuine and be considerate about the customer’s problems.

(Prepare to) Compensate.
A good way to make customers happy while they are complaining is trying to compensate them. You don’t have to compensate them right then and there, but you should certainly say something like “I apologize about this. We’ll definitely give you some sort of credit or compensation for your inconveniences.” If possible, offer credits, but if the customer says he or she doesn’t want one, give pure cash. Generally, your credits should be worth more than the cash you’re prepared to give.

Work on resolving the issue.
As the customer is complaining, work on resolving the issue. This means looking up their account, checking into the history, etc. Work pro-actively instead of sitting there and just saying “OK.” That way when the customer is done explaining (and complaining), you can work on resolving the issue right then and there.

That’s part one. Tomorrow’s post will be about dealing with customer complaints and using them to your advantage. I think I may split it into two separate posts (and days), but we’ll see.

(Formal) Introduction to Complaints

On Thursday and Friday, I talked about how to deal with angry customers. I’ve created a new category called Angry Customers and have added those two posts and this will be the third post in the category introducing the mini-series: dealing with customer complaints.

This series will cover:

  • What to do while the customer is complains.
  • Dealing with complaints and using them to your advantage.
  • Gathering feedback.
  • Responding to complaints.
  • Following up on complaints.
  • Preventing complaints

This is a six part series (obviously). In the mean time, I’m accepting your ideas for things you want to see written about on Service Untitled in the future. Any topic relating to customer service or the customer service experience is possible, so suggest away! If you have something related to complaints that you’d like discussed, feel free to make a suggestion.

This is more of a weekend post, but tomorrow will be the first part of the series on complaints. Be prepared for information on what to do while the customer is complaining.

Angry forum posters.

It’s going to happen eventually. You’ll have an unhappy customer and this customer will go to a forum to complain about your company. It’s been done with basically every consumer company in existence, especially Internet companies. So the question is how do you deal with it when a customer posts a hateful message?

Stay calm.
First and foremost, stay calm and don’t start flipping out. Don’t tell your customer that’s he an idiot, a pain, or whatever – just be sure to stay calm, cool, and collected.

If possible, stay private.
The perfect way to do these is to acknowledge the problem, and then deal with it privately. That way, the issue doesn’t become a public argument and you can deal with the issue in a responsible way.

Post something like:

Hi there,

I apologize for any inconveniences you may have experienced with our company. Could you please email me at name@company.com so we can work out this issue privately?

I appreciate your patience and look forward to hearing from you soon.


You’re showing concern and apologizing, but still dealing with the issue privately.

Then, deal with the problem.
Not much explanation needed. Stay calm, and don’t say anything you will regret if it’s posted by the angry customer publicly. Chances are if it doesn’t go the customer’s way, he or she will post everything, or even worse, select parts that could be misinterpreted.

Post the results.
When you’re done and have hopefully resolved the issue, ask the customer to post what happened. Ask them to post something like “Company A gave me a credit and I’m happy now. Thanks!” If they won’t post it, or say they will and then don’t, go post the results yourself. Make sure what you post is factual and you have proof that it was done.

Ask the topic to be closed.
If possible, contact a moderator at the web site the issue was posted at and ask them to close the topic since it has been resolved. Most places will, but some won’t. Just be nice and offer to provide any proof necessary.

Be sure to follow-up with the angry customer in a few weeks and make sure that they’re happy.

Now you know what to do if there’s an angry customer posting about you publicly. On Monday, we’ll start a series on dealing with angry customers in different situations.

Keep your enemies closer.

Another article with a happy title today. That’s what happens when you don’t provide suggestions for day-to-day content!

Everyone has heard the saying Keep your friends close and your enemies closer, and it’s a good saying. This should be the golden rule of the feedback loop – don’t ask your best customers who constantly evangelize your product and make sure their friend’s cousin’s mother’s dog’s aunt has an account with you, but rather, ask the people that wouldn’t suggest your company if it could save their best friend’s life. That’s where the good stuff is going to come from.

  • Whenever someone cancels, ask them why they cancelled. Say is it something we did (people wise), something our product did that aggravated you, not enough money, etc.? That’ll give you a good idea of what you have to work, especially if you get a lot of similar reasons for cancellations.
  • Ask random customers what they think of your entire company, your product, etc. regularly. Don’t pick 10 members from your forums – pick 10 customer numbers using a random number generator like Random.org. Send them an email and ask “Would you mind taking a brief survey about your experience with company XYZ so far?” As always, offer some sort of compensation. Whether it be a free T-shirt, a free month of service, or a $5 credit – do something.
  • Pay attention to complaints. When I ask a company I consult for, “Could you show me a list of some of your most frequent or most recent complaints?” and they say “Huh? We don’t keep a record of those.” I literally want to hit them. Suggestion: Don’t throw out complaints and pretend your company is a utopia and your product is what makes it a utopia. Pay attention to them. Log them, address them, and keep asking for them.
  • Read negative reviews. You should always read the most negative, meanest, nastiest, and most insulting reviews you can find about your company. You should then log them and actually act upon the suggestions. Do this especially if the reviewer is someone who’s well known in your industry or works for a publication, etc. that is well known (or both). (It works the other way, too. The newest and most idiotic writer on the planet can say something bad about your company, but if it’s in a big trade magazine or The New York Times – too bad.)
  • Ask the customers you hate. Ask the customers you hate to provide their opinions. Whether they’re simply annoying, rude, or very “opinionated”, ask them questions about your company, recent changes, new products, etc. Not only do these customers usually have their opinions about things in general, they’ll likely be more than happy to provide you with them.
  • Listen, darn it! When someone makes a suggestion, complains, or even makes so much as a whisper about something not perfect on your product – listen to it and hopefully act on it. At least explain to the customer “We’ve considered that, but in our tests, a majority of customers said they didn’t like the change.”

A bit longer of a post today, with a bit more content. Remember, complaints can’t be avoided and you should really take negative feedback as the best type you can get. Tomorrow’s post will be about what to do when a customer (or former customer) posts on a discussion board, tells a magazine, etc. about how horrible your product and company is.

Scare them and then not?

A short post today. I called T-Mobile last night and after I got through the various voice prompt the automated system started to say “All of our representatives are currently busy.” and that whole speech. Then, 20 seconds later the phone started ringing and a person picked up. Basically, the system made me go “Darn it. This will be a while.” and then connected me.

A tip for your PBX systems: have just music for the first 30 seconds. That way, if someone becomes available within 30 seconds, the customer doesn’t have to be aware that he or she could be waiting in a call queue for quite a while. Most customers will tolerate 30 seconds of music thinking that it’s the system transferring them, them being connected, etc.

Simple and effective. This is probably more of a little thing, medium difference, than little thing, big difference. However, if you’re dedicated to have great customer service, little thing, very small difference should be enough to have change. Still looking for individual topics, so please do comment with your suggestions. My next series will be how to deal with angry customers.

Tip: The low-tech way to do this is simply to have music for the first 30 seconds of your “on hold” recording. So instead of saying “Your call is important to us.” have music for 30 seconds, then say it.

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