How To: Complaints = cash

Written by Deena Waisberg

Step 1: Don’t play hot potato

“Customers become annoyed when they’re transferred over and over and have to repeat their problem,” says Eric Fraterman, principal of Customer Focus Consulting in Toronto. Empower front-line people to solve problems. If the customer service rep can’t solve the problem, he should find the person who can, explain the customer’s issue and then introduce the customer.

Step 2: Empathize

“When customers come in or call in with complaints, they’re usually emotional,” says Ken Parson, president of Service Management International in Vancouver. Deal with those emotions before the actual problem by empathizing. “Say something like ‘If that happened to me, I’d be angry, too’ or ‘I understand what you’re saying’,” advises Parson. Let irate customers blow off steam.

Step 3: Ask for suggestions

Each customer has his own idea of a satisfactory solution, such as a refund, free repair or a letter of apology. “The best way to find out what the customer wants is to ask,” says Joe Gerard, vice-president of sales and marketing at in Ottawa. If a request is reasonable, honour it. If not, then tell the customer what you can do right away and ask whether it’s acceptable.

Step 4: Follow up

Deliver the solution promptly, then follow up to make sure the problem has been resolved to the customer’s satisfaction. “This closes the loop,” says Fraterman — and encourages the customer to do business with you again.

Tips for online complaints

Acknowledge e-mailed complaints with an immediate reply that provides a “help ticket” number and lets the customer know when someone will be getting back to her. (Software can automate this process.) Be sure to respond — by phone, if appropriate — within one business day.

© 2006 Deena Waisberg

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