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If You Can’t Say Something Nice About Customer Service…Complain!

By John Tschohl

In the customer service industry, we cannot avoid complaints. Complaints happen every day and when a customer complains it is usually for a good reason or genuine concern. They usually have made a purchase that did not meet their expectation – a product, service, or maybe a combination of the two. We must take care of the customer by listening to the complaint, and resolving it, to ensure a happy customer.

Fewer than half of unhappy customers will bring a complaint to your attention. Those who never say anything will tell an average of 11 or more people about their bad experience. It is important that we recognize complaints as opportunities, so we can sway these averages, one resolved complaint at a time. It is my belief that no transaction is complete unless the service that customers receive will motivate them to return and do business with you again.

Customers want to know someone is listening and they are understood, and they are hoping you are willing to take care of the problem to their satisfaction. No matter what the situation is, when a customer brings a complaint to your attention – even if they do it in a less-than-desirable way – be thankful. We must realize that improper handling of a customer complaint can be costly to the business.

Handle a customer complaint in a smooth and professional manner

When something goes wrong how do you take the customer from hell to heaven in 60 seconds? The solution is to empower and reward employees to solve problems quickly and to the customer’s satisfaction

Follow up with a phone call. Even a small gesture of apology can turn a bad situation into a good one. The cost could be minimal – maybe a simple upgrade on the customer’s next purchase or a gift certificate. A simple gesture like this could result in an over happy customer. When you resolve customer complaints successfully, you will better understand their needs, retain them as loyal customers, and enhance your business.

I have been writing about Stew Leonard for over 25 years. Stew Jr. has a huge 6,000 pound rock in front of their store that says

  • Rule 1 The customer is always right!
  • Rule 2 If the customer is ever wrong reread Rule 1.

The company has received worldwide acclaim for excellence in customer service and quality and is featured in two of management expert Tom Peter’s books: A Passion for Excellence and Thriving on Chaos. In 1992, Stew Leonard’s earned an entry into The Guinness Book of World Records for having “the greatest sales per unit area of any single food store in the United States.”

In my book, The Customer is Boss, I show you how to complain correctly. Most people begin their complaint with the person they are complaining about. Not a good idea. It all starts at the bottom and many people don’t believe it will do any good. And, they are right. After all, if the complaint comes in at the bottom level, they surely are not going to send it on up to management to show what a terrible job they did on handling it.

I tell everyone that they have the right to a good experience, a quality product, and top of the line customer service. I also tell everyone that it’s their responsibility to let the appropriate channels know when there is an issue. You deserve quality and top notch performance.

There are a couple of things that work when trying to motivate a business to give you better customer service:

  • Ask for good service: “I really need your help.”
  • Act as if you expect good service.
  • Treat salespeople as friends – a friendly attitude toward salespeople is so rare that clerks treated respectfully jump to attention to serve you as if you were a celebrity.
  • Change your attitude toward good service. Your chances of receiving good service improve immensely. Speak up.
  • State clearly your expectations and ask for a speedy resolution to problems.

Don’t feel sorry for business, government, or non-profit groups when you complain about bad service. You’re doing them a favor by complaining.

Complaints are good for business so don’t shut up, speak up. – John Tschohl

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John TschohlJohn Tschohl is an international service strategist and speaker. He is founder and president of the Service Quality Institute in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Described by Time and Entrepreneur magazines as a customer service guru, he has written several books on customer service including Moving Up. The Service Quality Institute ( has developed more than 26 customer service training programs that have been distributed and presented throughout the world. John’s monthly strategic newsletter is available online at no charge. He can also be reached on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.


One Comment (Add Yours)

  1. Today I tried to help my daughter, who is a teacher and can’t stay on the phone waiting for a rep to answer. She has had no land line for a couple of days. She had called several numbers to report the outage and keeps getting on this automated system. All we wanted to do was report the outage and I had to physically go to a AT&T store locally to get them to help me get to someone who could help find out the problem. It is a problem with AT&T line and they say the problem will be repaired by Thursday. Now what if an emergency should come up. They are out where there are no cell towers and they have a child with diabetes. My issue is why doesn’t a AT&T have something like Duke power where you can just call into that and report the outage without having to physically go to the local store. That was totally absured and even the guy who helped me was getting ticked cause he even had to call several numbers to finally get to where we needed to be. Even though the world is mostly cell phones now you should consider the ones of us who still have land lines or various reasons. As big as AT&T is how hard is it to set up an 800 number for repairs. Even though it was not my phone it was out of order and I was trying to report it. I have AT&T as well and was not happy having to do all this to help out my daughter. She asked me is they were going to give her a refund for having to wait three more days to get a phone. That would be 5 days without a phone and DSL. You tell me, is it fair to treat your customers to all this automation when all you want to do is report an outage. What good is automation is you still have to get in your car and go to the store to report and outage. At least make it a little simpler on your website and give a number that goes directly to customer service for outages. Is AT&T to big to give good service???

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