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Building a Profitable Business: Properly Handling Complaints Will Head off the Headaches

March 10, 2002
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Every cleaning professional deals with complaints, regardless of effort. But there is a way to deal with them, to the customer's satisfaction.

An old adage says that a satisfied customer will tell an average of four others about a positive experience with your company, while an unhappy customer will tell an average of 14. However, when a complaint is handled properly and promptly after it has been filed, the complaining customers will not count themselves merely among the satisfied, they will actually become cheerleaders. They are likely to tell even more people how you not only provided good service, but stood behind your work and solved any problems that occurred.

How do you address these concerns? Consider these steps:

Prompt Response
The key to turning the complaining customer into a cheerleader is to address their concerns quickly and cheerfully. At this point, they aren't angry, just disappointed that some aspect of the job did not go as they expected. They are often apprehensive as to how you will react to their complaint; they may even be defensive. A positive, proactive response within a few hours of their filing a complaint can often avoid the strong emotions that come when a person feels like no one is listening or that you don't care.

Any response should begin with an apology. It's not necessary to admit that you did something wrong, just that you are sincerely sorry that your customer's expectations were not met. Acknowledge the problem even if it's only that they are unhappy. A good opening might be, "I'm sorry you feel we have not met your expectations. I understand how you feel and we will do everything within reason to correct this situation."

Don't begin by denying that there is a concern; that you didn't do anything wrong; that you've never seen this before; or that the customer must be mistaken. Remember, while the customer may not always be right, they are always the customer. They pay the bills, and so deserve polite respect.

Identify the 'Problem'
Once you have acknowledged that your are willing to address the issue at hand, work to identify the exact concern or problem that you are dealing with. You cannot correct generalities, so narrow the issue down to the details.

Specific spots that didn't respond to cleaning or an odor that has become apparent are examples of what I mean here. Sometimes you will find that the 'problem' is not with the results of the cleaning, but with the service. Perhaps the technician arrived late, left a cigarette butt in an ashtray, marked a wall with a hose or used improper language. Make sure that you understand the exact nature of your client's concern. When you feel you have a handle on it, ask if there's anything else and keep asking until the client says, "No, that's everything." Now, all of the issues are on the table, and you can begin to address them.

Ask the client if they have some action in mind that they believe will correct the problem. By asking, you can quickly discern their expectations and then negotiate a plant that's acceptable to both of you. Don't try to correct the problem until you have clearly identified it, and what would be an acceptable solution.

Once you agree upon a plan to address all customer concerns, write it up in the form of a 'No Charge' work order.

Correct the 'Problem'
Once you have agreed on a course of action, work quickly to perform the tasks outline on the work order. When possible, or practical, have the customer watch your efforts so they know you did what you agreed upon. If the results are not much better, your customer will know that you made the effort to correct the problem and will generally agree with the new results.

If your inquiries revealed several specific issues, address them one at a time, and get the customer's approval on each issue before going on to the next. When each has been satisfactorily addressed, again ask if there is anything else. If you've done everything right, there should be nothing else. However, if something new crops up, now is the time to address it.

Get the Customer's Agreement
When all issues have been addressed to everyone's satisfaction, ask the customer to sign the work order outlining the items to be corrected and indicating their satisfaction. Finish the claim by again asking if everything is up to their expectations and if they are pleased with your company. When you get an affirmative answer, ask them to remember you the next time they - or their friends - need services. Apologize again, and thank them for the opportunity to be of service.

Customer satisfaction is the key to long-term success in the service business. Look on a complaint as an opportunity to cement a lifetime customer rather than a problem to be solved.

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