Customer complaints can damage businesses for good – so what’s the best policy?

whar's the best way to handle customer complaints?

What price customer service?

Every consumer has a story about a mishandled complaint or a completely baffling customer service procedure that takes a disproportionate amount of time to resolve. It’s not surprising, really, given that each day billions of transactions take place all over the world. In the not-too-distant past when a lot more business was transacted in person, complaints were often resolved over the counter. These days, customers are as likely to take to social media as they are to confront the seller with a complaint, so how should businesses manage complaints – and are review sites a trustworthy source of information for consumers? 

News travels fast

The inexorable rise of review sites such as TripAdvisor, Better Business Bureau, Yelp, Google+ and Rip Off Report, together with the global reach of social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook mean that consumers have a louder voice than ever before – and businesses have an even greater imperative to treat their customers well and keep them happy. A story about outstanding or appalling customer service can go viral in hours and lead to a PR triumph or disaster for the company involved.

Everyone loves a good news story and it’s almost always great for business. When Huffington Post blogger, Peter Shankman, tweeted his hankering for a Morton’s porterhouse steak upon boring a flight to Newark a few years ago, the famous steakhouse delighted the blogger and his followers by making a personal delivery to the airport as soon as the plane touched down. It’s a story of going above and beyond that customers will remember for a long time and the publicity was worth more than a six-figure advertising budget.

Hitting companies where it hurts

While complaints about poor customer service don’t necessarily resonate as lastingly as those with a feel-good factor, they can cause lasting damage to companies who risk having their online history damaged for ever by poor reviews. Savvy consumers often check out potential suppliers online before becoming customers just to make sure there aren’t any skeletons in the closet. So far, so sensible, but what if someone with an axe to grind skews the results?

The more customers a business has, the less likely it is to maintain a 100% satisfaction rate – even if complaints are handled well. Fact is, if a customer doesn’t get what they want, no matter how unreasonable their complaint, they have plenty of tools at hand to smear a company’s online reputation and they’re statistically much more likely to take to the web than those who’ve had a good experience.

That said, most consumers are pretty adept at weighing the percentages. Pick any hotel on TripAdvisor and you’ll find a negative review or two – it’s inevitable. If the poor reviews begin to stack up, though, and similar themes are raised by different reviewers (cleanliness, comfort, service), the alarm bells might start to ring.

Getting it right – most of the time!

Because no company can please all of their customers all of the time, it’s crucial to have a process for handling, escalating and resolving complaints fairly and honestly. At Bank of Cardiff we experience a relatively small number of complaints compared to satisfied customers. Complaints are usually made when an application for credit is declined or only part-approved. We know it can be a big deal for customers to be turned down for credit so we make provision for a thorough review of the loan submission to see whether a decline can be turned into an approval with the addition of more detailed information, another guarantor or bank statements from another account to substantiate a better cash flow, for instance.

Sometimes we simply can’t remedy the situation and the disgruntled customer may take to social media to vent or contact BBB. In either case, it’s our policy to promptly respond to the complaint in a diplomatic manner. It’s more complicated on an unmediated site like Rip off Report, where responding often does more harm than good. Legal action is always a last resort.

The bottom line?

Good customer service is essential for any business looking to grow. We can’t always control how individual customers will react in every given circumstance, but we can work hard to create a positive experience for everyone.

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