We’ve all had them and they can sit along a very long continuum of severity. Complaints from customers (or internal stakeholders for any in-house readers) aren’t pleasant to deal with and can place pressures on an otherwise positive relationship.
The temptation is to respond as quickly as you can to appease your client and try and get back into their good books. But in responding in this way the chances are that you won’t address the root cause and will be setting yourself up for a repeat fail.
Instead, follow these steps to ensure you can keep the client happy whilst preventing the issue from occurring again.
I must stress, whilst I’m advising against responding too quickly, it is imperative that you acknowledge a complaint has been made.
There is no quicker way to lose relationship then by ignoring concerns that have been raised.
My advice is to follow up immediately after the complaint has been made with a call and an email. This should include a summary of the complaint and the immediate next steps you will take before getting back to them.
Talk to the internal team members involved in and ask for their take. If they offer an opposing view, ask for some evidence to support it.
This is where you may need to do some detective work. Some complaints are completely justified but it is also possible that your client has missed or overlooked something.
If you can gather emails, contact reports, call notes, etc. supporting the later it could avoid having to refund budget or award additional work.
Pulling together a timeline of events is a great way of understanding how and when an issue occurred.
After you’ve spoken to the parties involved and gathered the available evidence, plot the chain of events, and identify key factors.
These can include:
- Email & call dates
- Agreed actions
- Contact reports
- Any specific contract clauses the cover the matter at hand
With the above steps completed, you can now respond. You should include the following in your response:
- Summary of the complaint
- The steps you took to address it
- The outcome
- The steps taken to avoid it happening again
- Details of any compensation offered
Now you’ve presented details of the cause and remedy of the issue, seek agreement from the client that they’re happy with the response.
In some cases, some of the solution may be challenged. If you’ve done a good job of being a detective, then you should have the confidence to push back on anything you’re not comfortable with.
However, bear in mind that the client may have a different view on the events or could be presenting you with an alternative way of mitigating future issues.
Ultimately this should be a collaborative process with the outcome suiting all involved.
Don’t assume that because a new, more stringent process is in place everyone will follow it first time around.
Check in with the stakeholders regularly, reinforce what has been agreed and adapt if you need to. Stay in regular contact with the complaintive and make sure they’re happy the issue has been resolved.