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I hope you find my writing and business tips and observations useful. My business and blog are dedicated to helping businesses communicate clearly and reach their potential. Read, subscribe to my newsletter, enjoy! Tash

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Answering complaints

I have been on the receiving end of poor business service recently – and it really is not pleasant.

Losing my business should be unpleasant for that supplier, too, as it means I no longer refer clients there.

Not delivering as promised has had a huge impact on my client – that put the supplier in a bad light, of course. And needing to make multiple requests to find a revised delivery date became very annoying very quickly.

But what has really made me turn my back on that supplier is how they handled these delays.

Dealing with complaints and problems

In life, sometimes things go wrong and promises aren’t kept.

Angry man about to hammer a piggy bank.

Do you want your customer to be this angry? It could cost you a lot more than coins in a piggy bank if you don’t try to resolve their concerns.

When your business can’t deliver, though, you have two basic options. Be honest and apologise to the customer, or ignore it and pretend there is no problem.

Guess which option the above supplier chose…

I was given an excuse the first time I complained. The second time I was told ‘I can’t see any record of you calling on Monday’. And it still took a week for the sales person to respond to those messages. And more days before she gave me a revised date.

Every contact from the sales person had a little ‘sorry for the delay :(‘ message and ‘I look forward to hearing back from you again’ but generally ignored most of what I wrote in my formal complaint. I did not feel she was taking my concerns seriously nor that she was particularly interested in helping me get my order fulfilled.

The end result being that I am working with my bank to get a full refund and I will not use this supplier again.

Positive responses to complaints

To learn from my ex-supplier’s example, here are things they could have done to improve the situation – even if the delivery was delayed by more than two weeks.

  1. Ideally, they could have contacted me with an expected delivery time when I first placed the order – especially if they knew they were busy and couldn’t make the promised times on their website. And especially as I had requested this in my original order…
  2. As soon as I made contact about the delivery not reaching me as expected I should have received contact from the sales person. A quick ‘sorry for the delay – let me look into what is happening and get back to you’ would have been better than silence as I would have felt they were interested in serving customers
  3. After multiple contacts from an unhappy customer, they could have tried to help me get my delivery and feel better about them. Whether that was regular follow ups, a discount, a bonus offer or something else doesn’t matter – the lack of that meant the problem is what I associate with their brand now.
  4. The sales person could have actually answered my concerns in her email – and probably could have left out sad faces, frankly. I’ll give some examples of that in a separate post next week.
  5. Acknowledged my frustration and let me feel heard. For instance, instead of telling me they hadn’t recorded my first call they could have said ‘sorry – we should have answered you by now.’
  6. When they told me ‘I’ll get back to you soon’, they should have contacted me rather than wait for my next complaint. Again, it would have been much better to have kept their word by contacting me and letting me know what was happening (even if it was limited information) than let me wait and lose any confidence in their business.

Do you deal with complaints?

Have you ever thought about how you respond to complaints from customers?

It can be confronting to admit you’ve done something wrong (or less than ideal anyway) and may be tempting to hide from it, but you can turn things around if you deal with a complaint well. Or at least minimise the damage.

Preparing an attitude and perhaps a procedure ahead of time may help your business do better with complaints than my ex-supplier. I hope you do a lot better, in fact!

* Image courtesy of Kozzi

Answer customer questions

Even the negative ones.

If a customer has a question, they want you to answer it – and preferably as soon as possible so they can move on to the next step.

answering questions leads to customers

Answer potential customer questions to get more customers

Look at your website, brochures, social media profiles and other written messages – do you answer customer questions?

Smaller documents can only answer a few questions, obviously, but make them important questions (like how to contact you for further answers!)

Scary questions

Some businesses are scared of people asking a certain question – or act that way anyway.

Why not stand out by being the brave business? It is honest and gives customers fewer things to worry about because you have answered their questions.

And it gives you a chance to make things more positive, too.

So a dentist website can include “will it hurt? Well, yes it might but we’ll warn you and do whatever we can to minimise it.”

Here are some more industry specific examples…

  •  personal trainers: ‘do I really have to work out in between visits?’ ‘Only if you want the best results!”
  • accountants: ‘am I going to have to dig out all my old receipts?’ ‘I’m afraid so – the more receipts we get, the more we may be able to get back for you at tax time!’
  • editors: ‘will you really point out all my spelling mistakes?’ ‘Yes, that’s what you’re paying us for – but we promise not to make you feel bad about any of them!’
  • online shops: ‘do you charge postage and delivery?’ ‘Yes we do. We decided to charge official postage rates rather than increase the prices of everything to cover delivery.’

Do you answer any potentially negative questions in your materials? How have clients responded to those answers?

If you want some ideas on what questions customers may silently being asking – and how to answer them nicely – then contact me soon so we can help your customers find what they need.

Answer the question when replying

One simple way to improve your business communications is to ensure that every email you send in reply to anyone (staff, suppliers, customers and even friends and family) actually serves you both well.

So if someone has taken the time to ask you a question, make sure you answer it, and answer it clearly, when you reply. Sounds obvious but as it often doesn’t happen, it is worth checking before you hit send…

  1. read their email again – did you miss a second question? Are you sure you understood the real question being asked?
  2. does your answer stand alone? That is, did you give a full answer that anyone could understand – there is nothing worse than an email “Dear Fred, the answer is yes. Regards, Barney”. “Dear Fred, Yes we do deliver to Devonport. Regards, Barney” is much more effective as Fred doesn’t have to remember or think about what his question was.
  3. is your answer as simple and clear as possible? “Yes we do deliver to Devonport” is much better than “Yes, we deliver to all major cities in Australia” (is Devonport considered a major city?) or “Our delivery areas are all listed on our website and we cover most parts of Tasmania and Queensland” (how is Queensland relevant? Why couldn’t you give a direct answer?)
  4. if you can’t answer the question, say so rather than be obscure or ignore the question. I know I would prefer to hear “I’m not sure but will find out for you” or “we haven’t done that before so I’ll have to ask my manager to call you back” rather than having to ask again or risk making a guess.
Not only are clear replies to questions a good communication strategy, they can save you (and those you email) time and frustration.

Match questions and answers…

Recently I wanted to make a complaint to a company and was directed to their online form (hmm, is it telling that their products come with a prominant page about how to complain??) and saw this as the opening sentence:

“already been attended to by phone or other means would you please advise YES/NO”

How does it help them to know I will (or won’t) advise them on whether my issue has already been dealt with? Wouldn’t the better question be ” Have you already told us about this issue? YES/NO”

Whenever you give people a choice of answers in a survey or form, you have to give answers that actually give the information you are after. Remember that the words ‘would you’ are what people will try to answer, so put them at the start of your question or don’t use them at all.

Generally, use active verbs and phrase questions as simply as possible to avoid confusion and misunderstandings.

PS I could go on to say how important it is to get your promotional materials right – and not use old materials after you make changes. My original complaint was about their promotional brochure offering 4 things in a set but their website offering two things for the same price. Putting these two issues together has totally destroyed that company’s credibility and I don’t trust a thing they say now – and won’t be returning there.

Surprise mention in survey

I did a survey today which was ok on the whole but question 5 had a surprise element in it. Note I did not know who was behind the survey (deliberately to get unbiased answers).

The question was in effect “Are you primarily a business or personal customer of these services?”

The answer options were “personal/business/equal/I am no longer a customer of Company X”

So the anonymous-to-get-unbiased-answers aspect was thrown out the window with that answer which is not so good. It also didn’t mean a lot as I never said I had been a Company X customer, nor even acknowledged I’d heard of company X before. The fourth answer didn’t even answer the question so was completely irrelevant.

The lesson is to read every answer with the question before you finalise a survey or any other multiple choice list – this also applies for a bulleted list in that each point must complete a sentence from the introduction.

From the above example…

“Are you primarily a business or personal customer of these services?” “personal” works
“Are you primarily a business or personal customer of these services?” “no longer a customer of Company X” doesn’t work.

If you are writing or editing a survey, ensure you read each answer with the question in this way to get a polished, sensible result.

Check questions are answered

Clear writing needs to flow so that each statement or each point you make follows on the previous one. As soon as your reader has to stop and think about how the ideas connect or gets confused from a jump in topics, your message is weakened.

It is especially important to directly answer any questions you may raise at the start of any communication*. For example, if the title to your article is ‘retire now or later?” then the article must give information about when to retire; if your article is really about building your super by retiring later, use a title such as ‘super and delayed retirement’ or ‘retire later with more super’.

Likewise, if you include the question ‘should I have a blog?’ you need to include positives and negatives to help a reader make an informed decision; if you just want to list advantages to blogging, use ‘ 10 good reasons to have a blog’ as the topic.

As well as being effective writing, answering questions you raise

  • gives you the opportunity to show (and share) your knowledge
  • allows people to quickly find what they are after (which they appreciate)
  • gives you a structure that makes the writing easier
  • avoids annoying readers with irrelevant information and misleading titles wasting their time

* Of course, this applies to informative writing – if you are asking questions to gather interest, don’t give an answer but you still need to ensure the question and following information are obviously related. For instance. “Too busy to cook from scratch?’ needs to be followed by ‘our recipes give you quick, nutritious meals’ or ‘our flavour sachets save you time and effort’, but not by ‘Whatsit Saucepans are dishwasher friendly’

Too ignorant to know…

For many people, knowing what they don’t know is just about impossible. These are the people whose behaviour led to the saying “A little knowledge is dangerous” as they don’t understand how little they really know.

Consider a young child who has just learnt that 2×3=6. That child will proudly tell you she knows what multiplication is and how to do it. Yet if you asked her 34×76, she would have no idea how to solve it. As adults, we expect her to have limited understanding and give her time to learn more about multiplication – and encourage her learning to date.

What is a bigger concern is adults who act like that child – they know a few things and assume that makes them an expert – and charge people as if they have an extensive knowledge. Or use their assumed knowledge as a basis for applying for jobs above their level.

I have dealt with suppliers who believe in their own expertise to the point they can’t admit any ignorance or lack of knowledge. They assume a superior attitude to their clients and tell them how to do things, even if they are wrong. And even argue with clients who suggest or request an alternative.

The hard part is in dealing with these people as they aren’t likely to listen enough to learn how little they truly know, or even recognise how much someone has been coaching and helping them.

In some situations, I have taken the time to lead someone towards a greater understanding – and sometimes they have accepted the new knowledge, too! Some tips I have found to be more effective are:

  • never patronise them – they don’t like it any more than the rest of us!
  • occasionally add in why you are doing or requesting something even if you are in the position of being able to tell them. For example, I may say something like “I didn’t include that example because it was negative and I think a positive example will be more effective”
  • maintain their self-esteem by asking questions to either help you or confirm your understanding. Remember that they will have some expert knowledge even if not as much as you want or need!
  • if providing them with resources or information that may help them learn, present it carefully. Instead of “here, you need to read this”, try “I found this article very interesting – what do you think of it?” or “I’m not sure I agree with this document – do you?” or even “I want to go to this seminar – would you mind coming with me in case it gets too technical for me to understand?”
  • put your expected answer in the question so they can be involved in decisions and learn from the process. For example, “I assume that the second quote is better because it includes delivery as well. Do you agree?” may work better than “Which quote should we choose?”

We all have things to learn – and usually the more we learn, the more we realise we have a lot more to learn! So we can hope that giving bits of extra information to an annoyingly ignorant person will lead them to an understanding of their own limitations!

Use your words wisely!

Sharing salaries…

It’s one of those questions we don’t usually ask, or answer – how much do you get paid? I’m not going to discuss whether that’s good or bad, or even why it may be the case, but something on the news last night made me think of it.

Apparently, a 16 year old boy was offered a job in the USA for $400,000 a year, which he turned down as he wants to stay here with family and friends. What I find interesting is how everyone found out about it.

I find it hard to believe that the company contacted the media and said “we offered him $400,000” I mean, that sort of announcement can’t be good for them – it shows them being rejected (even if through no fault of theirs) and may cause problems between staff who aren’t being paid $400,000!

I know I’ve had jobs where I didn’t want others knowing my salary – largely because I didn’t want them to get into ‘why does she get that much?’ or ‘but I should get more than him!’

A 16 year old earning so much also makes me wonder about his expectations. I am not making comment on his ability in any way or whether or not he deserves such a salary, but $400,000 is such a lot of money to start a working career with! Where does he go from there?

I see some value in young people starting with small jobs so they learn the value of earning money and getting a realistic view of the working life. It’s not so much the $10 an hour as learning their time is worth something and that it takes time and hard work to increase their pay rate. And learning how to use and  manage that money is also important.

The value of clear communications!

I have recently being working through a training book (as a student, not a writer) and found various bits hard to understand. Luckily, I have a group of people around me who have been able to help interpret some of the questions – and I have interpreted other bits for them! I would hate to be struggling through it alone!

One question I thought I understood and prepared an answer for – it took me half an hour or so to get it finished and involved someone else getting some restricted information for me.

At the training course itself, my tutor read through my bookwork and pointed out that the question above was not correctly answered – it was asking for something else entirely. With that knowledge, I could just see what the question meant but it was a struggle! So I rewrote my answer – taking another two hours to do so.

A simpler example from the same training weekend was “Collect the names, titles and contact details for everyone in the training team.” I therefore wrote a list of names, titles and email addresses for the other  members of my team on the course (we worked in teams throughout the course.) I then realised what they really wanted was a list of the names, titles and contact details for the trainers themselves – THE training team, rather than my training team!

Clearer questions would have saved me the stress of worrying I knew what to answer, the confusion of having no clue what to answer at times and the time of having to rewrite some answers. So a very concrete example of how useful clear communications are!

Complaints response

I have often used bad examples of writing, so I thought it was time I acknowledged receiving a good email!

A little while ago, I noticed a discrepancy between an invoice and my bank statement so I sent a polite email to the supplier. I noted the problem and the resolution I wanted. The supplier replied to me email and I was impressed by the response.

The email was:

Hello Tash,

Thank you for your email. I understand you are concerned that, {stated my issue in their words}. I see that you would like {repeated my requested resolution}. Below, I have addressed your concern in detail.

And then went onto to answer my concern.

The email is polite and clearly shows they have read my complaint and are treating it seriously and respectfully. It started with my name and was obviously written by a real person in answer to my email – not just a standard response.

In fact, I think it makes a pretty good template for how to construct a complaint response! As a customer, I felt heard and respected, and my issue was dealt with.

So next time you have to answer a customer complaint, or even a customer query, remember the steps:

  1. use the person’s name
  2. restate their issue to show you are listening (or reading!)
  3. restate any resolutions they suggest
  4. answer the issue
  5. above all else, be polite and respectful

Happy writing!