Keeping customers after a complaintJeanne Rinaldosales tips, customer service, phone tips, motivation
I believe that your institution's character is measured by the
way you deal with a complaint. Here's a little test to judge your
When a customer calls with a complaint, do your
a) Point the finger at another department, institution or the
b) Assume the customer is wrong because they just dont understand
how our business works?
c) Do anything to mollify the customer?
Believe it or not, those are all real responses, all of which
are practically guaranteed to send that customer packing. We all
know that mistakes happen from time to time. When you combine
people, technology, tight deadlines and loans involving most
people's biggest financial asset, it's an explosive mixture.
Sometimes it can reach a critical mass. The truth is that the
mistakes are not the problem; how you deal with them is what
matters. If your customer service team spends their time and energy
pointing fingers and being defensive, it's a good bet the customer
will be looking for another lender.
When a customer makes a complaint, your institution has
everything to lose. At that point, the customer has almost nothing
at risk. Tick them off and they'll just go down the street to any
one of the competitors on the next block. In other words, you'll
miss them. They won't miss you, and chances are the only time
they'll think about you is when they're telling their friends just
how badly you treated them.
So, instead of getting defensive the next time a customer
complains, try going through a mental exercise I call the "Five
Whats:" "What is the customer saying to you?
"What do they want from the company?
"What did the company do to contribute to the problem?
"What are the immediate steps you can take to fix the
"What can you learn from the experience?
Let's take a look at a three-call approach for handling complaints
that we have found can help retain a customer:
Call #1The Initial Call.
If a customer has gone to the trouble of making a complaint, they
still think you can do something about it. That means they still
think of themselves as one of your customers. Your job is to make
sure they still feel that way when the call is over. Here are the
1.Thank the person for bringing the situation to your attention.
Tell them how much you appreciate their taking the time to let you
know about it.
2. Hear them out.
3. Play back what they said using a lead-in phrase like: "This
is what Im hearing."
4. Let them know youre going to meet with your team and research
the situation. Do not offer a solution until you do this.
5. Set a deadline to get back to them and meet it. This begins
the process of rebuilding trust.
Call #2The Call Back.
This call has nothing to do with who was right or who was wrong.
It has to do with demonstrating responsiveness and preserving the
relationship. Here are the critical steps:
1. Offer another thank you, this time for giving you the
opportunity to help.
2. Let them know that you did the research and tell them what
3. Admit any mistake made by your institution. Apologize,
explain how and why it happened, and let them know what youve done
to rectify the situation. Remember, this is particularly helpful if
you can change the system because they brought their complaint to
4. Concentrate on rebuilding the relationship. That means
resisting the urge to tell them that they were "wrong," even if
your research found that the complaint was not justified. For
example, if they have a complaint about you failing to deliver when
they expected, you didnt meet their expectations. If their
expectations were off base, you didn't give them the right training
on how the process was supposed to go. A phrase like, "I'm sorry we
didn't adequately let you know what to expect of us" addresses this
situation. The bottom line is this: if they had the wrong
perception of what and when they'd get things, the responsibility
for this comes back to you.
Call #3¬The Follow-up.
This step is not always necessary. It is needed, however, when the
customer sees the issue as particularly serious. Notice that I
didn't say when you see it that way.
1. Re-contact the customer with a phrase like, "This was serious
enough to require an additional follow up."
2. Take their temperature by saying something like, "How are
3. Make sure the issue is put to bed. Test to see if the
customer believes things are the way they should be.
4. Thank them for taking the time to bring this to your
Rules of the Road
Here are a few general tips that we have found helpful for those
members of our team on the receiving end of customer complaints:
"Listen and learn. Resist the urge to react too quickly to what you
think you are hearing. If you drill down into the center of a
complaint, you may find that there's a lot more going on. Most of
the time, people don't call because they've only had one problem.
They call about an accumulation of issues or a trend in the way
theyve been treated. Listening does two things: it allows the
customer to feel they are being heard, and it helps you to learn
from the mistake.
"Hold off on promising anything too quickly. You have to digest
the background and then come back with a solution after you have
all of the pieces of the puzzle. If you do the research, you may
find out that what the customer perceives is not the whole story,
or that the complaint only stems from a lack of communication.
Researching before acting allows you to determine if you have a
really big problem that could require corrective and preventative
actions. It also tells you whether it is the client or your system
that has the problem.
"Find out what it taught you. Learn something from every
complaint. A complaint tells you something's not working. That
something may be a core issue that the complaint represents. You'll
find that out when you review the complaint in what we call an
"After-Action Report." This report allows you to take the
experience, analyze what happened and then make any necessary
changes so it doesn't happen again.
"Avoid being defensive. Defensiveness creates a barrier to a
solution. It stops you from listening. If you spend your time
defending yourself, you aren't listening. You need to build an
environment among your team members that eliminates defensiveness
and instead, focuses on aligning yourself with the client. You must
recognize that regardless of the validity of the problem, the
client still perceives it as a problem. We all live on our own
perceptions. Your job is to imagine yourself in the client's
position and experience what they do. Defensiveness allows you to
dismiss the complaint as frivolous and ignore what caused it, when
in fact, we've found that most people don't complain
"Be prepared to retrain the client. In many cases, complaints
arise because the client didn't receive clear expectations. If this
is the case, you will need to restructure a client's expectations
on things like closing, scheduling and delivery timetables. Often,
lenders are trying so hard to get a customer that they offer
delivery times that can't always be met. Yes, you can deliver some
loans in three days, but you know that you can't deliver them all
that quickly. Set clear expectations for realistic delivery times.
We all know that it's better to under-promise and over-deliver than
the other way around. Here's the bottom line on dealing with
complaints: If there's one client with a complaint, there are
probably many clients who aren't bothering to contact you. It's the
people who aren't calling that you should worry about. If one
client thought it was important enough to call you on it, how many
others are thinking it? Why aren't they calling? Maybe it's because
they've already gone down the street to get their financing from
Jeanne Rinaldo is a senior vice president at Integrated Loan
Services and is the company's relationship manager and head of
customer service. She can be reached at (800) 842-8423 ext. 1365 or