Dealing with customer complaints is part of doing business. You know it if you’ve been in business for longer than a few years, and I know it.

Handle them correctly and you’ll look like a hero.

Mess it up and there is a good chance that customer is out the door and on the phone (or worse, online) squawking to everyone they know about what a terrible business you run.

But, before I get into the meat of what I want to talk about today, I wanted to highlight a couple of things from last week:

1) The IRS is not accepting tax returns until January 31st. Due to the hiatus during this fall’s federal shutdown, their systems STILL have a lot of catching up to do, apparently. Which does NOT mean that we cannot meet with you or *work* on your return before that point. Only that we won’t be able to officially “file” it until that point.

2) Due Dates of Business Returns – S Corps (March 15) Partnerships (April 15)

Now, as we move into 2014, here are some things you can put into place to make sure you handle those customer complaints well.

Valerie McLaughlin’s
“Real World” Business Strategy Note

Beautiful Recoveries
“Just because you’ve made mistakes doesn’t mean your mistakes get to make you. Take notice of your inner critic, forgive yourself and move on.” -Robert Tew

In his book, How To Win Customers And Keep Them For Life, Michael LeBoeuf cites some powerful statistics…

•  96% of people who experience a problem with a small ticket item or service, do not complain.

This means that for every person who complains, 24 feel the same but do not say anything.

•  91% of those people who do not complain, do not do business with that company again.

When someone complains, they are giving you a wonderful gift.  They are giving you an opportunity to make right whatever is wrong.

Here are four steps to help turn almost any customer complaint into a positive experience…

Step One: Say, “Thank you.”
By thanking them for bringing the problem to your attention you are signaling your willingness to listen. You’re also diffusing a lot of the anxious energy people bring when they come with a complaint. They’re probably prepared for a confrontation and a genuine, “Thank you so much for bringing this to my attention!” takes a lot of the wind out of that sail.

Even if you disagree with your customer, you can still be grateful that they told you about the problem.

Remember that their complaint is a gift, and treat it as one.

Step Two: Ask lots of questions, and LISTEN.
Their lips may be saying, “The color is wrong,” when they are really saying, “It makes me look fat.” Don’t make judgments, don’t jump to conclusions, just keep the conversation going until you feel confident you’ve uncovered the real reason for the complaint.

I know, I know … some people are hard to read, they tell you lies, or they are just being a pain in the back side.

Do your best to understand their real problem.

Step Three: Be empathetic.
Acknowledge how they feel. Apologize if it’s appropriate. People can tell if you are trying to understand, or just pretending to understand.

Be on your customer’s side, even if you think they are the cause of the problem.

If you get into an argument with your customer, you lose. You might win the argument, but you’ll lose the customer.

Step Four: Solve the problem!  
A simple and sincere, “What would you like me to do?” is the best way I know to handle it.  Experience has shown me that if you give your customers the power to pick a solution they will almost always be reasonable.

Of course, there may be an occasional knucklehead who will make a crazy request, but deal with these situations on an individual basis.

As a rule, give your customers the benefit of the doubt. They’re not taking advantage of you, they are giving you a gift!

One final statistic…
“A customer that has their problems satisfactorily solved will provide 3 times the revenue of a customer that has never had a problem.”


Empower your staff to make things right. They may occasionally make a mistake, but the benefits of amazing service will far outweigh the occasional misstep.

I would ask that you forward this article to a
business associate or client you know who could benefit from our assistance–or simply send them our way. While these particular articles relate to business strategy, as you know, we specialize in tax preparation and planning for families and business owners. And we always make room for referrals from trusted sources like you.

Warmly (and until next week),

Valerie McLaughlin
(410) 224-2600