This Episode: How To Handle Retail Customer Complaints


If you’ve been in retail for more than 10 minutes you know that complaints are a fact of life. I’m going to suggest that complaints and complainers are really opportunities. Opportunities to do, as Disney says, turn tragic into magic.

Rather Read The Episode? Click Here.

Hi I’m Bob Negen and welcome to this episode of Real Retail TV. Today you’re going to learn the right way to handle a customer complaint.

So if you’ve been in retail for more than 10 minutes you know that complaints are a fact of life. It may not be anything that you did wrong, but the color is not right, they didn’t like the gift, the widget didn’t work as expected. There’s all sorts of things that go wrong and customers come in to complain about it. So you can treat these complaints as a problem, and you can treat these complainers as a problem, but I’m going to suggest that complaints and complainers are really opportunities. Opportunities to do, as Disney says, turn tragic into magic.

The first thing I want to share with you is the recognition that a complaint is a gift. So most people, when they have a problem don’t complain, they just go away. Next time they go online they go to your competition, they spend their money someplace else. So by coming in and complaining to you, they are giving you a gift in that they’re giving you a chance to make it right. They’re giving you another shot at their business. They’re not going online, or to the mall, or to your competition. They’re giving you a gift. So act like it.

So when I say act like it, what I’m suggesting is the very first thing that you should say when you hear that someone has a complaint is not I’m sorry, you should say, thank you. It’s a gift, thank you. You see when you say I’m sorry, which is how most people handle complaints, you’re being put on the defensive. You are now on other sides of the fence. You are playing against each other. When you say thank you, you are now putting yourself on the same team. You are now teammates working together to get that customer to a place where they’re happy to solve their problems. So once you’ve said thank you, the next step is to L.E.A.P. to your customer side. And L.E.A.P. is a fairly famous acronym for listen, empathize, acknowledge, and problem-solving.

So when you L.E.A.P, when you say thank you, your body language, your tone of voice, everything about you should say we are on the same team. Non-verbal communication is 90% of communication. So if you’re looking like this, if your arms are open, if you’re looking them in the eye, if your tone is non-judgmental you’re halfway home. Thank you, I’m so glad you brought that up to me. So let’s go through. The L in L.E.A.P. is for listen. Stop, shut up, ask questions, and listen. But really listen let them tell you what the problem is. Ask more questions if need be. But the listening is really about calming them down and giving you information that you can use to solve their problem.

E is for empathize. And empathy is the process of feeling what they feel, and that’s what you want to do. You want to listen and you want to feel what they feel, because if you are truly empathizing you are bringing that relationship closer, and you are bringing the solution closer. The A in L.E.A.P. stands for Acknowledge their feelings acknowledge that you are hearing them. You don’t have to acknowledge that they are right. You know when people complain are often wrong but that’s OK. Their feelings are their feelings and you want to acknowledge that they’re feeling that way. By you acknowledging their feelings again, what are you doing? Your teammates, you’re working together, you’re getting to the P, which is problem-solving.

Now, this is important. This is contrary to what just about everybody teaches, but I can tell you that from 19 years being on the floor, and for 17 years working with independent retailers like you, this is the best way to handle customer complaints. It goes like this. What would you like me to do? You see, you’ve listened, you empathize, you acknowledge, what would you like me to do? Here’s what you’re going to find, is that when you openly ask someone for a solution to their problem they’re going to give you a totally reasonable solution. And when they give you a totally reasonable solution, the answer is yes, of course, we can do that, good. We’re teammates, we’ve worked together, this problem is solved. Now every once in a while, I know some of you are going oh somebody is going to take advantage of you. Every once in a while someone will take advantage of you. In 19 years I’ve only had this happen twice where someone was unreasonable.

I’ll tell you a funny story or at least I think it’s funny. One of the two times was when we were selling yo-yo’s, and that happened in Jackson, Michigan. In the mall, we had a Yo-Yo Universe kiosk and things were crazy. You know there were dozens of kids mulling around this kiosk buying yo-yo’s, playing with their yo-yo’s. Everybody’s waiting in line. A father and a son get to the front of the line and he had a $25. He had a $25 Raider yo-yo and it was broken. Clearly user error, I knew exactly what the kid had done do it, it happened all the time.

What would you like me to do? And the father said, I’d like you to give me $35 back plus $20 for my time to come down here. Well you’re a retailer you know that’s totally unreasonable, right? But, this is important, you know there are all these people behind watching the whole thing happen. There are lots of people in line waiting to be served. And rather than becoming an adversary to this person, I said, well I know I didn’t just say it, I took a deep breath and then I said to him, no problem. I took $35 and an extra 20 out of the till. I gave it to him along with a little professional stink eye, you know the whole, really dude? You know what you’re doing is jive, I know what you’re doing is jive, but that’s OK I’m a better man than you.

Here it is now, here’s what was interesting. There was like I said all these people waiting in line to get to the front and you know to make their transactions, to buy their yo-yo’s. And they were all watching to see how I would handle it, and because I handled it so skillfully they were all so impressed. And you could just see the way that they felt about me, about us, about Yo-Yo Universe. And I would say that the feelings that this transaction generated were worth way more than the $20 that I gave back because some guy was being a knucklehead. So just recognize that when you are generous there is going to be occasions where someone is unreasonable, that someone will take advantage of you, that you’re going to feel a deep sense of injustice.

But that’s OK. Generosity is the right strategy almost every single time. Now some of you watching this may go, well you know, I can’t do that, my boss won’t let me, our policies won’t let that, allow that, and I get that. And although what would you like me to do I think is the ultimate way of dealing with complaints, if you can’t just make it right what I’m encouraging you to do is to recognize that it’s still your job to do what you can to make them as happy as possible.

I’d suggest that you suggest solutions to them. Watch them. See how they’re reacting to your solutions. If they start to react positively, go down that road. But what I don’t want you to do is say, sorry our policy is this. Tell them what you can do, not what you can’t do. Do everything you can to make it right. Now if you like this, if thinking about customer service and giving your customers an amazing experience is something that interests you, that makes your retailer spidey sense tingle I would encourage you to, A, if you have the retail mastery system, go into your customer service module, go back and review, go back and schedule a meeting in that video where I do frontline customer service training, make sure that your team watches that. If you don’t have the retail mastery system and you are interested in better customer service, I would encourage you to consider making that investment. It might be the best investment you ever make in your business.

So your action items, should you choose to accept them, is to review your customer complaint policies. Ask yourself, ask your team what are we doing, and ask yourself more importantly, how can you be more generous? How can you put yourself more firmly on your customers side? So if you like thinking about customer service, if you want your customers to get a better experience in your store, if you want your team more tuned in and turned on to service I would encourage you to either go into the customer service module of your retail mastery system. Or if you don’t have the retail mastery system, invest in a retail mastery system and then go into the customer service module.

So that’s today’s episode, how to handle customer complaints. If you have not subscribed to our free email tip of the week yet, I would encourage you to go to whizbangtraining.com. Every Wednesday you’re going to get great information on how to build a better business, how to make more money, and how to have more fun. Go there, sign up, and as always I appreciate your likes, I appreciate your comments, and I appreciate your shares. So I’m Bob Negen, this is Real Retail TV, and I’ll see you next time.

Share This