As a business, we are going to make mistakes and inevitably this will affect the client or customer, but what options do we have for remedying the situation outside of reaching out to them and saying, “Hey, I’m really sorry about…”?

I faced this situation recently after sending out a bi-weekly email. I have someone who is responsible for sending emails out to our email list. She accidentally sent out the wrong one, but immediately sent out the correct one with a note that said, “I apologize for that and here’s the email I intended to send out”. It was no big deal because mistakes happen and most companies who are concerned with the perception of their customer base would have likely responded in a similar manner. 

Then a  couple of years ago, I got turned on to a book called, A Complaint is a Gift: Using Customer Feedback as a Strategic Tool by Janelle Barlow. In it, she provides a systematic approach to handling customer complaints that I continue to use in my business today. It changed the way I looked at customer complaints and since customer service is an integral part of all business, in this article I want to share some of my book takeaways.

In Janelle Barlow’s book, she outlines a strategy for handling complaints called the “complaint formula”. It’s a simple 8-step process that walks you from the initial contact with the customer to the end where you fix your mistake.

Step 1 (Say “Thank You”)

I think this is the most important step because it’s more than an apology. It’s showing your appreciation for the customer taking the time to share their concern. This is something that we’re not taught, it’s not obvious, and most people don’t like to get complaints, but saying “thank you” is a good first step toward setting the groundwork for the conversation ahead.

As an example, let’s say one of my team members dropped the ball and didn’t get a mailing out to a client. We said we were going to mail them something and they never received it so the client emails or calls me and complains. So, I’d call the client up and say, “Thank you so much Mr.Smith. I really appreciate you letting me know about this because it gives me an opportunity to fix it.”

Step 2 ( Explain Why You Appreciate Their Feedback)

The second step is to explain what you appreciate about their feedback.  Many times a potentially negative situation can be diffused by simply showing the other person that you are listening. In the customer’s mind, it can also show them that in the eyes of the company, they are not just a number.

Step 3  (Apologize for the mistake)

Have you ever been in a situation where you feel you’ve been wronged by a company or even a person, but they refuse to acknowledge their wrongdoing? Not a great feeling from the receiving end. A simple apology goes a long way toward remedying any hurt feelings and ingratiating the customer toward your company.   

Step 4 (Promise to do something about the problem immediately. Take responsibility)

Barlow shares that there are two sides to service recovery: emotional and tangible, and promising to take action immediately fulfills the emotional side of the process. One example could be,  “Mr. Smith, I want to do something about this immediately. Tell me exactly what needs to happen for us to make this right.”

Step 5  (Ask for Necessary Information)

Asking for information moves into the tangible areas of the customer complaint handling process. Information gathering is important, just make sure you maintain the connection by pulling the customer into the process rather than making them feel like their complaint is a problem. One way might be, “Mr. Davis, in order to handle this matter promptly, I’ll need to get some additional information from you.”.

Step 6  (Correct the Mistake—Promptly)

Keep your promise and handle the mistake quickly. This shows good faith toward the customer and could potentially work in your favor toward increasing brand loyalty.

Step 7  (Check Customer Satisfaction)

Once the problem has been taken care of, send the customer an update like, “I’m checking in to let you know that that we did (XYZ) to remedy the issue. Have we resolved it to your satisfaction?” and then listen to what they have to say.

Step 8 (Prevent Future Mistakes)

Now that the customer complaint has been fixed, go back and look at your systems and your processes. Ask your team what went well in the process and where they felt the breakdown occurred, and how it can be prevented in the future. If incorporated properly this 8-step process can help your systems and your team become stronger.

I’ve provided only a snippet of the value provided in the book, A Complaint is a Gift: Using Customer Feedback as a Strategic Tool. I highly recommend it to any business looking for ways to increase customer engagement and repair any broken ties, so grab a copy for you and your team members.

Having a process for customer connection and remedy is crucial for consistent brand communication across the board. When team members know exactly how to handle a complaint, they can walk through the steps of the process without becoming emotionally distracted by a customer who is less than satisfied.

Brand loyalty doesn’t occur because we always get it right. It occurs when we treat customers like more than just a number by listening and responding quickly so that they know that they’ve been heard.