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How to deal with client complaints

26 Jul 2018

In recent client service training workshops for BNP Paribas, RWE npower and NAB, the one issue that all participants wanted help with is how to deal with difficult clients. In our workshops we take participants through a series of steps - to structure a conversation - as follows…

Step 1: Listen & allow “venting”

When a client is upset they want two things:

  1. To express their feelings
  2. Their problem solved

Trying to solve a problem without FIRST listening to a client’s feeling NEVER works.

Don’t interrupt

  • Nothing heats up an already angry client faster than being told to calm down while they’re venting.
  • Don’t try to stop a client from expressing their feelings – angry people are not ready to think logically in an organised way.
  • Avoid these phrases:
  • “You don’t seem to understand”
  • “You have to”
  • “You must be confused”
  • “We never… we can’t… we won’t”
  • “Calm down”

Step 2: Empathise (men - don't jump straight to problem solving!)

Women do this better than men – in fact, a man’s default position when faced with someone with an issue is to be the hero, to jump in and solve the issue.  But empathising shows care and crucially, shows you understand your trying to understand your client’s situation. 

Empathetic phrases include…

  • "I can see why you feel that way.”
  • “I see what you mean.”
  • “That must be very upsetting / annoying / frustrating...”
  • “I understand how frustrating this must be.”
  • “I can appreciate…”

Step 3: Apologise

  • Some people see apologising as an admission of guilt
  • However, saying sorry to a client doesn’t imply you or your company did anything wrong, but rather that you’re genuinely sorry that the client has had a bad experience
  • Tone of voice is key – a warm and caring tone is key

“I can understand your anger, and I’d like to apologise for the problems you’re experiencing…”

Once you've apologised, ask them for permission to solve the problem with you (note: using a closed question helps you take back control). “If I may, can I help you solve the issue?” You’re exploring if they’re ready to move on becasue they may still want to rant a little more. If they do say ‘yes’, then you can move to the next stage… 

Remember: Only once you’ve shown empathy and apologised can you start to solve the issue for them. 

Step 4: Problem solving & fact finding

  1. Gather additional information: “I can hear how frustrated you are. I apologise for the stress this is causing you – let’s walk through some diagnostics so I can help you?”
  2. Double-check all the facts: “Let me summarise what I heard you say so that I have all the information correctly”
  3. Ask qualifying (closed) questions to rule out what or where the problem isn’t: “Have you spoken to anyone else?”
  4. Check your understanding by feeding back their information: “Have I understood you correctly?  Is there anything I have missed?”

Step 5: Mutually agree on a solution

  • Key tip: Under-promise and over-deliver!
  • If you think it will take three days, give yourself four or five, then when you deliver in three the client will be pleasantly surprised
  • Do NOT promise what you cannot deliver

Step 6: Be proactive not reactive – Own the problem

  • You can really impress a client by following up with a client – by email or phone – to check that the solution has worked
  • Effective follow-up includes fixing the procedures that caused the problem to begin with
  • Take action and follow up
  • Own the problem – always go back to the client – even if you have nothing more to tell them

These skills are part of mindset that client-facing employees must develop. It is no easy task to get yourself in the right emotional place to deal with clients - it requires excellent self-management, emotional intelligence, listening skills and coaching skills, and these skills forms a key part of the client service training Lequin delivers. 

For more on these skills or to enquire about training or executive coaching, please contact Peter Willis at Lequin Executive Coaching and Training at Based in Bath near Bristol, we are a UK based company.

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