consumer affairs bermuda

Handle complaints well to ensure you keep customers

05/21/2010 | Last week I addressed how to lodge a complaint against a business. This week I am offering suggestions to businesses on how to handle a customer complaint. Let’s face it — this is Bermuda and every business is bound to ­receive a ­complaint about a purchase of goods or ­services.

How you handle your complaints will define your customer service and affect your bottom line.

One of the key elements to a healthy bottom line is having a comprehensive complaints procedure, in writing, that all staff are aware of and are empowered and trained to handle.
Smaller businesses may want to involve the owner in the complaint management process but if the problem is a simple ­exchange or return, trained staff should be able to ­manage this.

If the complaint is ­complex, do not try to solve it on the sales floor.

Take the customer to an office or somewhere that ­offers privacy. This is your opportunity to fix the ­problem.
Listen first, then ask questions and try to get the facts straight.
While you are having this conversation with the ­customer, repeat back to them what they are saying.
You want to be clear about all aspects of the complaint and you need to align them with your ­policies, any manufacturer’s warranty and, of course, Bermuda law.
Write down the main points of the grievance or, even better, develop a ­complaint form that will ­allow you to get essential information and help speed up the process.
If you cannot immediately resolve the complaint, give the customer a realistic timeline as to when you will contact them.
Again, if the complaint is complex and requires quite a bit of back and forth with the customer, keep a record of all visits and calls, ­including who was present and what was discussed.
Sometimes businesses will have to negotiate and compromise on a solution.
This does not mean that you let the customer take advantage of you or that you give the shop away.
However, recognise that it costs about six times more to get a new customer than to keep an existing one.
Once you have made a ­decision on how you will ­resolve a complaint, arrange to meet with the customer and ­include key staff if necessary.
Take minutes that can be typed up after the meeting and get both parties to sign off on them.
If all goes well and you are able to agree to a solution, put it in writing.
Even after you have met and discussed the solution with the customer, follow up with a letter so that both parties have a written record of events and the resolution. On the other hand, if ­after you have met with the customer and no agreement can be reached or the proposed resolution is not accepted, the customer has a few options.
They can make an ­appointment with a higher authority within the ­company — if they are not already dealing with that person — or can ­inform the company they will be taking the matter to court or to their lawyer for redress.
Companies can also ­contact Consumer Affairs.
Consumers are not the only ones who can ask for assistance.
The enforcement officer assigned to the case will want evidence from both sides to show there was a reasonable effort to solve the problem. We can also suggest ways in which the problem can be solved.
At the end of the day, complaints can work to your advantage — it’s free feedback.
A complaining customer is better than the silent one who takes their complaint out the door with them and never returns to do ­business with you again.
Honey Adams is the ­education officer for the ­office of Consumer Affairs, within the Ministry of ­Culture and Social Rehabilitation’s Department of ­Human Affairs. For more ­information on handling complaints, visit www.ca.gov.bm