Priceless assets: turning complaints into compliments

Posted: Friday, 24 May 2019 @ 16:19

By Tim Shand, Business Development Director

Complaint and compliment - two such similar looking words with such completely different meanings, and yet, in customer service, there is a special kind of alchemy that can bind the two.

In 21st century business, where the likes of Tripadvisor, Trustpilot, all manner of review sites and the omniscient force that is social media reign supreme, threatening to make or break your next sale or even your reputation entirely, complaints and compliments are commodities in themselves.  

However, the line between the two is not as clearly defined as some might like to think.  Amidst the new technology, and the many new options it provides to share an opinion on businesses, there is an important and experience-shifting space that’s left for old fashioned good manners.

The good, the bad and the ugly

Let me explain a couple of personal experiences. My wife and I chose to treat ourselves to a couple of holidays.  We booked both with similar, first tier tour operators, and with each there were elements that went wrong.  On return, complaints were made to both. 

The more minor complaint was handled with prompt courtesy, a full explanation, an apology and a very unexpected and generous settlement. The other was met with a complete absence of understanding and went into a process of attrition designed to wear the customer down. 

On another occasion we booked a flight with a major UK airline and due to a fault with the website the booking became a complete mess. The airline’s customer service team were unwilling, or unable, to sort out the issue, so the booking was cancelled. A formal complaint was brushed off and the flight was re-booked with another major UK airline. 

When there was later a small issue with an element of the flight, it was made right by a pleasant and personal process as well as a handsome, and unexpected, gift of a large number of air miles.

Good manners cost nothing

Now, in all these instances something went wrong.  It happens; we all know and accept that, and I think most of us are reasonable human beings about it.  The difference however, is in how the organisations handled the problems.  It is not the initial transgressions that colour my impression of the companies, but rather their customer service in the face of an issue.  

It is not even necessarily a question of compensation; indeed compensation is not always appropriate.  It is about giving the customer a proper hearing and an understanding of their position.  As a result of feeling heard by them, one of the tour operators and one of the airlines will always be my first choice, and more importantly, they will be the ones I recommend to others.

While these are both travel related tales of woe, the principles remain the same in many different business sectors.  Sometimes things go wrong, or a customer feels that something is not as it should be - such is life, even with the best will in the world.  

However, it needn’t always result in a negative outcome.  Sometimes you can turn a complaint into a compliment; we might even learn something valuable about our businesses along the way.  However, to achieve a positive out of a negative, courtesy and understanding should always be in the forefront of customer service, and all that will cost you are those two priceless assets - time and good manners.


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