Handling Complaints

A complaint is an expression of dissatisfaction, whether justified or not.

Nobody likes dealing with complaints but when you come to think of it, they are an excellent way of potentially turning defeat into victory! Isn’t it much better for a customer to tell you what they felt was wrong with their holiday of the service you provided and at least afford you the opportunity to redeem yourself and your company in their eyes, rather than have them never come back to you again and bitch about you behind your back.

  1. Have an open policy
    Have a clear, flexible welcoming and open policy on complaints. A complaint is an opportunity for you to redress a perceived failing in the eyes of the customer who brings the matter to your attention and thus should be capitalised on whenever possible.
  2. Show courtesy
    Thank the customer for complaining. Say that you are sorry that the problem has happened. This is NOT an admission of guilt on your part, it’s just good manners.
  3. Recognise the complaint
    Start with the view that the customer has a valid point, not that he/she is trying to rip you off. Accepting that the customer may well have a point, (even internally), may well trigger ideas for an acceptable resolution. This will instantly give you an advantage, as you not only will have more empathy with the customer, but also you know your business better than them and so can hopefully see the solution quicker.
  4. Get all of the facts first
    Letting the customer give you all of the information helps you fully understand the situation and, if they are emotional, will give them time to calm down.
  5. Don’t opt for easy solutions
    Don’t automatically opt for the ‘credit note/ex gratia gesture solution’. It’s very tempting to give the customer a partial refund, credit note or vouchers, and in many cases, done properly, it makes good PR sense. However, too often it is done INSTEAD of solving the problem, which can lead to more complaints about the same thing because it hasn’t been fixed, and also has a tendency to send out the wrong signals to serial complainers and only encourages and reinforces such behaviour.
  6. Learn from every complaint
    Do something! Fix the procedure/protocol; train staff in the issue; eliminate the fault. Wherever possible, let the complaining customer know that they have helped you resolve a problem – they’ll feel great and come back again and again (and will probably tell their friends!)
  7. Minimise the reasons
    Prevention is always preferable to cure. Do you have a continuous improvement culture? Do you check customer satisfaction regularly? Do you check the quality of the goods/services sold in your agency? Remember it costs at least 5 times as much to gain a new customer than to keep an existing one.
  8. Maintain regular contact
    Maintain regular contact with the complainant. For example, if you have to wait a week or more whilst a supplier such as a tour operator waits for a report back from the resort, ensure that you communicate that fact to the customer and even call or email them periodically lest they think that you have forgotten about them. Remember, perception is everything.
  9. Avoid further complaints
    Most complaints tend to occur due to overzealous selling in the first place which results in unrealistic expectations on the part of the customer. Always be careful to remind clients of the old adage that ‘you get what you pay for’. Most complaints tend to occur not because of some inherent shortcoming in the actual product, destination or service provided but rather the manner in which it was ‘pitched’ to them in the first place. Avoid hyperbole and overuse of adjectives and absolutes such as ‘amazing’, ‘exclusive’, ‘top-notch’, ‘world-class’ and so on and just reserve them for those rare instances when it really does do what it says on the tin!

“When complaints are freely heard, deeply considered and speedily reformed, then is the utmost bound of civil liberty attained that wise men look for.”
John Milton

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