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How to handle customer complaints

Even the best-run business receives complaints sometimes. We look at the best way to deal with complaints, and how you can use them to create customer loyalty and improve your business.

Follow a clear complaints policy

Before any work starts, customers are often reassured by the fact you are a Which? Trusted trader. They know that if anything goes wrong there is a mechanism in place to address any problems. It’s always a good idea to give customers a copy of your terms  and conditions and the Which? Trusted traders Code of Conduct before the start of any job, so they know what to expect from you.

Keeping the channels of communication open during a project can often prevent problems turning into official complaints. Try to deal with your customer directly - either face to face or over the phone. You’re less likely to misunderstand each other that way.

If you do receive a written complaint - and that can be via email or letter - what is the best way to deal with it?

  • Address the issue as soon as possible. If your customer is unhappy, further delay will only increase their irritation.

  • Contact your customer and try to arrange a meeting to discuss the issue and agree a resolution. Encourage your customer to be as specific as possible about the exact nature of the complaint and how they want you to resolve it. In turn, you need to be as specific as possible about what you will do to address it, including what remedial work will take place, when and what will be involved. All this needs to be put in writing.

  • Remain polite and professional at all times. Customers may find it awkward to raise complaints and they rely on you to make the process run smoothly. Ensure they understand your complaints procedure, what happens next and the timelines involved.

  • Keep written records. Make a written note of the complaint in your complaints log, then acknowledge the complaint to your customer in writing and offer a course of action to resolve the problem. To comply with the Code of Conduct this needs to be done within 28 days of receiving the complaint and all remedial works need to be completed within eight weeks. The complaint log is your best way of recording all the actions around the complaint. It’s important to keep this up to date, as this can serve as evidence should the matter go to the ombudsman or to court.

  • Listen to what your customer is saying. Sometimes the source of their complaint will be obvious, sometimes they may have trouble articulating exactly what they need from you and you will need to help them reach a resolution.

Creating customer loyalty from a complaint

Strange though it sounds, if you handle a complaint well it can actually increase customer loyalty. Proving to a customer that you will still go the extra mile for them and deliver excellent customer service when something goes wrong, means they know you will treat them fairly. This does mean you have to hold your hands up to any mistake immediately and do everything you can to put it right.

This works both ways - if you try to dodge responsibility, take too long to make restitution or fail to provide excellent customer service in any way, those failures are what people will remember.

You can also use the complaint as motivation to check on your own processes and procedures. This doesn’t mean you should start a witch-hunt to decide who or what is to blame, but rather make an honest appraisal of what went wrong and see if there is any way of avoiding that happening in the future.

Dispute Resolution Ombudsman

As long as your customer has used your services during the time you’ve been accredited as a Which? Trusted trader you can use the alternative dispute resolution service, Dispute Resolution Ombudsman, if you are unable to resolve the complaint yourself. As an independent and impartial organisation, Dispute Resolution Ombudsman is there to facilitate dispute resolutions if you have reached a position of deadlock with your customer.

Your customer has to bring the complaint to the Dispute Resolution Ombudsman – you cannot do it yourself. If your case goes to the ombudsman, you will need to present evidence to support your side of the case, including contracts, letters of amendment, photographs and any other physical evidence that can be used to support your point of view. (This is where your complaint log will come into play).

Find out more about how the system works in our guide to alternative dispute resolution.

What happens if you receive a negative review?

Receiving negative reviews is naturally disappointing, particularly if a customer has not formally complained or given you the opportunity to put things right.

Reviews are post-moderated on the Which? Trusted Traders website, meaning that they go live immediately and are subsequently moderated. The moderation team will ensure that a review, whether positive or negative, meets the terms and conditions of the site.

The moderation team will ensure that the review is not defamatory, but are unable to conduct investigations into the reasons behind a customer’s review.

Instead, if you receive a negative review on your profile, the moderation team will ensure that the review contains a sufficient amount of objective content, offering you the best chance to respond. This is a great way for you to present your side of the story.

If the consumer is unidentifiable by their review, or you have no outstanding complaints relating to the work described, the review will be removed whilst we contact the consumer for further information.

For more advice about dealing with negative reviews in general, read our guide to how to deal with negative feedback on social media.

Respect the spirit of your Which? Trusted Traders endorsement

As well as knowing, and implementing, the technical requirements that come when a complaint is made against you (as detailed in section 16 of the Which? Trusted Traders Code of Conduct), we also expect you to act within the spirit of your Which? Trusted Traders endorsement.

This means caring for your customers - if something didn’t quite go to plan and a complaint is made against your business, you’ll want to put this right. Customer care and professional conduct is covered in the What is Expected of You document so make sure you're familiar with its contents - before, during and after a complaint is made.

If you have any further questions, you can always contact your account manager who will be happy to help you work through the complaint process.

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