Mistakes are expensive. They cost money and, in many cases, they result in the loss of customers whose business is profitable. Every effort should be made, in advance, to forestall complaints. Every employee, however high or low in position, should be imbued with the spirit of accurate, efficient, pleasing service to customers in any station and under all conditions. The organization, as a whole and individually, must create a spirit of fairness, honesty and courteous service and then rigidly live up to that creed.
But no matter how thorough the training and supervision of those employees who come directly or indirectly in contact with customers, mistakes will occur. And when a complaint is made, you have at once the opportunity of cementing your relations closer than ever or of severing them for all time.
While no general principles can be given that will apply in all cases, a letter answering a complaint must, as a rule, perform the following functions.
(1) impress the customer with your sincerity and your desire to satisfy
(2) explain in detail the cause of the trouble
(3) state what you have done or what you intend to do and what you desire the customer to do
(4) convince the customer that it is still to his interest to do business with you
Letters handling complaints must take into consideration the conditions applying to each individual case. Good judgment must be used in shaping the course of your decision. When a decision is made, tell your customer of it in such a manner that he will appreciate your fairness.
Complaints must be handled on the assumption that the customer feels that he has grounds for his complaint. It is basically wrong to take the attitude that a complaint is merely a groundless endeavor to derive an unfair advantage of you. Remember that most people want to be fair. In making a complaint to you, they believe that they are in the right and are, therefore, entirely fair in their attitude. You must respect this view, feeling sure that when all the facts of the case are presented, the customer's sense of fair play will grant your point if the complaint is an unreasonable one.
It is far better to appeal to the customer's fairness and make him see the matter as you do, than to arbitrarily lay down an unexplained decision. If you must decline to grant a concession, show the customer your reasons for declining and convince him of the fairness of your position.
Furthermore, complaints can not always be decided entirely on their merits. Not always is the customer right and your establishment wrong, but it would be highly undiplomatic for you to reply in so many words to that effect. Policy frequently dictates that it is profitable to accept the customer's claims without question, even though they may not be wholly warranted.
Any angry or caustic retorts are, of course, to be strictly avoided. Even if the complaint is couched in highly offensive and unjustifiable language, you must retain your dignity. A courteous reply will, in all probability, make the customer a trifle ashamed of himself for so quickly giving vent to his feelings, while a hot reply will only fan the flame of his temper.
In many instances the complaint is based on a misunderstanding. When such is the case, you must show that you have a clear and correct conception of the matter without reflecting upon the customer's intelligence or integrity. Perhaps the customer has but a slight knowledge of the manner, in which your goods may be used, in which case, it is necessary for you to resell the goods, to explain and point out to the customer the reasons why it is to his or her advantage to retain and use them.
Complaints regarding purchases should be at once rectified. Complaints regarding service should be promptly investigated and traced down to the guilty person. In every case, the customer is to be promptly and graciously satisfied.
By all means avoid arguments. Do not allow yourself to be drawn into a long controversy, for a tardy concession has every appearance of a reluctant and forced one. If a concession is made, let it be made promptly, cheerfully and courteously. It will then impress the customer with your open-mindedness and your desire to allow no minor differences to stand between your amicable business relations. A concession begrudgingly made is little better than none.
A man purchased a cut-glass set at Wanamaker's New York store and instructed that it be sent by express to another city, where he was going to attend a wedding. When the set was received, one of the pieces was broken.
The customer was particularly put out because he wanted the cut glass in time to present it before the wedding, which was to take place three days later. He wrote Wanamaker, registering a vigorous complaint.
This complaint might have been answered in this way.
We regret to learn that the cut glass purchased by you failed to reach its destination in good condition.
This purchase was in first-class condition when we delivered it to the transportation company, as our receipt from them shows. Naturally our responsibility ended when we delivered the package to the express company. What happened after they took it is their fault — not ours.
If you will take this matter up with the local express agent, you will no doubt be able to obtain equitable settlement.
And the customer would have been most thoroughly disgusted with the store and its methods of doing business. As a matter of fact this letter came from Wanamaker's by return mail.
We are sending you today another piece to your cut-glass set.
It is a source of great regret to us that you should have been inconvenienced by carelessness on our part.
Please make whatever disposition you wish of the broken piece.
Yours very truly,
This piece of cut glass reached the customer on the same day as the letter and he was able to present his wedding present in perfect condition.
Notice in this letter the instant and unqualified decision regarding the complaint and observe also that the shipping department was speeded up to make the restitution in time for it to accomplish its purpose. No proof was demanded that the cut glass was broken. The customer's word was accepted as absolute proof.
This man, naturally feeling angry at the miscarriage of his plans, was so won over by this open-minded and broad gauged handling of his complaint that he at once wrote a letter of thanks pledging that Wanamaker's would in the future receive every penny of his trade. Yet, an unskilled handling of the complaint — a day of delay — would have destroyed the good-will of the store in this man's mind.
A woman bought a pair of white silk gloves with black stitching on the back. The clerk assured her the black would not run when the gloves were washed. The customer washed them according to the directions furnished with the gloves. The black ran and spoiled the gloves. She returned the gloves with a courteous letter stating the facts and requesting that the purchase price be refunded.
This is the letter she received.
We have received the silk gloves you mention in your letter of the second and are at a loss to understand how the trouble could have happened.
All of our gloves are carefully selected when the stocks are purchased and especial attention is given to the fastness of the black thread used in stitching. This black is guaranteed not to run when the gloves are washed.
It must be that you did not carefully observe the instructions for washing them, as given on the little tag attached to the gloves. If you had used lukewarm water, as directed, this trouble would not have happened.
We are, therefore, returning your gloves to you, as we can not see wherein we are to blame for the trouble.
This letter illustrates the wrong attitude in answering a letter of complaint. It not only lays the blame on the customer, but actually casts insinuations on her veracity, inasmuch as she mentioned explicitly that she had used lukewarm water.
She was content to allow the matter to drop, as the price of the gloves was a small amount. But she firmly resolved never to go into that store again and she had no hesitancy in telling her friends of her experience.
Her husband, upon hearing the details, took the matter in hand and wrote a most vigorous letter to the store, demanding a proper settlement and an apology for what he considered a slur in questioning his wife's veracity. He received this letter.
Your letter of the twelfth does not alter the aspect of the situation in regard to the liability for the damage done to your wife's gloves.
As we previously stated, if the gloves were washed in accordance with the instructions given, the color will not run.
However, as you seem so intent to consider this a matter of considerable importance and rather than incur the expense of extended correspondence, we are enclosing our check for the amount of the gloves.
This woman never tired of relating that Blank's was a disagreeable firm to trade with and that the only way she received satisfaction was by having her husband use force.
Such a concession did little good. It was not willingly and gladly given. It was extracted by force.
How different would have been the situation if the store had written a letter similar to this.
Enclosed is a due bill for two dollars which you may exchange for cash if you desire or use just the same as money when you make future purchases in the Blank Store.
We can not understand what could have caused your gloves to run as they did. We watch our stocks carefully, but as you exercised every care in washing them, it must be that a defective pair slipped past our inspectors.
We are very sorry that you should have been annoyed in this way and assure you that we strive to make every transaction a wholly satisfactory one.
Would you like to have us send you another pair of gloves — that surely won't run — in exchange for the due bill? Or is there anything else we could send instead?
Yours very truly,
The man who can write a letter that does what another man must make a personal call to do is the greatest, most independent power in the modern business world.
Such a letter would have amounted to the same concession as made in the other way, but at what a difference in tact and retained friendship.
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