Customer complaints are indeed a part of any business. There is no such thing as an all-time hundred per cent full proof service to all customers. As any business depends on people within and people without, as well as several other support facilities, there would be instances when the occasional service failure is unavoidable.
Service or product delivery fails to come up to the expectations of the customer or even the standard set by the organization itself. Complaints do occur. Successful organizations are those that have realized that prompt attention to customer complaints is an essential element of an enduring customer relationship.
As the chairman of British Airways, Sir Colin Marshall observes, ‘The customer doesn’t expect that everything will go right all the time; the big test is what you do when things go wrong. Occasional service failure is unavoidable.’
Every organization should put in place effective machinery that swiftly responds when things go wrong. Every organization should have a responsive complaint redressal mechanism that effectively deals with dissatisfied customers. Just as satisfied customers tell others about a business responding to complaints, the unhappy customer too tells about his experience, and indeed more so.
According to a study conducted for the White House Office of Consumer Affairs, U.S., while a happy customer talked about it to five others, an unhappy customer narrated his experience to ten others, on an average.
This makes it imperative that business organizations attend to customer “complaints promptly and effectively in their own interest. Customer grievance redressal should aim to go beyond mere complaint handling and work towards pleasing and retaining the aggrieved customer.
If a dissatisfied customer is treated shabbily, there is likelihood that he/she will break the relationship and cause much damage to the organization. Moreover, it is far more expensive to get a new customer than to retain an existing one. Communication, both oral and written, has a vital role to play in pacifying an aggrieved customer and winning him over.
When oral complaints are not satisfactorily redressed, the aggrieved customer may prefer a written complaint. Complaint redressal having been recognized as an important facet of customer relations, every organization will have a well-structured customer grievance redressal machinery at various tiers.
When the complaint is not redressed at the branch level or the first tier, the complainant may approach the zonal and corporate level or the higher tiers. Therefore, correspondence relating to complaints occurs at various levels and it is necessary for the staff at all levels to learn the related handling skills.
1. While attending and replying to various types of complaints, some relevant letter-writing principles will have to be followed. The first one is promptness. It is extremely important to be prompt in replying to customer complaints.
Organizations do set then own standards in this regard. Highly customer-responsive organizations make it a point to respond to all customer complaints within twenty-four hours. Others may take somewhat longer time.
Nevertheless, the endeavour should be to respond as quickly as possible. However, at times, the nature of complaint is such that it would be essential to gather relevant facts and figures from various offices or persons in order to draft the reply.
This may call for additional time, perhaps running to a few days or even weeks. Under such circumstances, it is imperative that an interim reply is sent to the complainant stating that the complaint is being looked into and a final reply would be sent as early as possible.
In the absence of such a reply, the complainant would be at a loss to know if any action has been initiated on the complaint, giving room for further dissatisfaction. Receipt of a complaint is to be promptly acknowledged.
2. The second important point to be kept in view is the extra care and courtesy in dealing with such persons. For some reason the complainant is aggrieved. It is likely that some specific deficiency or slip has taken place, as a result of which the customer is displeased or even hurt.
The reply should make every effort to appease the hurt feelings. Whether there is any lapse or not at the service provider’s level may or may not be clear while acknowledging the receipt of the complaint or sending an interim reply.
Nevertheless, it is desirable to express some regret for the inconvenience and state clearly that the matter would be looked into in right earnest. All the same, unless there is some real deficiency or reason for the hurt feelings, it may not be desirable to concede any lapse, for that may entail compensation or penalty to be paid. Herein lies the skill of the letter writer.
While the letter expresses some kind of regret that the complainant’s expectations are not met, and also assures that the matter would be expeditiously looked into, there does no own up of any deficiency at this stage, especially if it is likely to put the business organization at an undue disadvantage.
3. The third important requirement is to bring in a tone of sincerity in responding to complaints. Routine and stereotype replies are likely to carry little conviction and put the complainant off.
The letter writer should give the impression that the complaint has been taken seriously. The letter writer should also convey in some way that the complainant is of value to the institution and thank him/her for having taken the trouble of writing about the perceived deficiency.
After all, the aggrieved person has the choice of quietly severing the business relationship and going elsewhere. An aggrieved customer often looks not only to the specific redressal but also to the overall stance taken by the organization in responding to the complaint.
When we talk of complaints, there is a wide range. Some of them may be somewhat routine in nature and may relate to lapses in carrying out instructions, or excessive charges or delays in response.
They may arise out of ignorance or misunderstanding of the salesperson. On the contrary, some complaints would be of a serious nature relating to misbehaviour of staff, rudeness, pecuniary demands or lack of integrity.
The response should be in tune with the intensity of the nature of complaints. The letter should give an indication of the gravity of the matter as perceived by the business entity.
4. Another essential requirement would be to give all relevant facts and figures while convincing the complainant of the stand taken by the organization. It is likely that there is no deficiency in service and as such the complaint has arisen out of the unreasonable expectation of the complainant.
In such a case, the letter writer would do well to draw the attention of the complainant to the relevant rules, regulations, charts, and terms and conditions in a polite and convincing manner.
5. In responding to the complaints, the authority signing the letter on behalf of the organization also assumes importance. When the complaint is of a serious nature or when the complainant has a long standing and valued business relationship, they would naturally expect the matter to engage the attention of a functionary at a fairly high level in the organizational hierarchy. Hierarchy appropriateness has to be ensured in dealing with the complaints.
The final point to be considered in dealing with complaints is that progressive organizations consider complaints as opportunities to strengthen their relationship with the customer. The concern is not just with setting right the deficiency but also with winning over the customer.
At the end of the transaction and in the ultimate analysis, the complainant should still entertain positive feelings towards the organization and the people who respond. It is likely that on occasions, the demands or expectations of the complainants are highly unreasonable.
The organization may not like to concede to such demands. In all such cases, it is especially the skill of the letter writer that helps win over the complainant.
We have hitherto discussed the complaints which the organization receives from its customers, patrons and others interacting with it on various matters, and the approach the letter writer should take in responding to them.
In the same way, there would be occasions when the business organization may have to refer complaints with other agencies such as banks, suppliers, transport operators, public utilities and other service providers. What is essential under such circumstances is to:
1. Be specific about the nature of the complaint.
2 Give all relevant facts and figures.
3. Address the complaint to the proper authority.
4. Follow it up till complete redressal is made.
The letter writer should keep the correspondence polite but firm. If there is a genuine shortcoming or deficiency, one has every right to seek redressal and even some kind of compensation.