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Tips for Complaining Effectively
Basic Communication Model
Complain Professionally as a Small Business Owner
What Do You Do?
How Do You Handle Complaints?
Complaints Are a Part of Daily Business Operations
Handling complaints is an important part of day-to-day operations in any business. However, this is especially important to the small business or home based business owner. Larger corporations can absorb the impact of complaints more easily than the small businesses.
Many small business owners prepare themselves to deal with customer complaints, but forget to prepare themselves for those times when they need to complain. Often, the need to complain arises in a situation that is of critical importance and the situation needs to be resolved quickly. Sometimes a simple human error on the part of a vendor or supplier can cause a sudden uproar of confusion and backlog. Small business owners are often overworked and have minimal staff to delegate chores of fixing problems or investigating errors.
Two Common Approaches to Making a Complaint
The Direct Approach
The direct approach is a method commonly taught in business communications classes. It is used most often when the person making the complaint is reasonably certain that the other party will be willing and open to making the requested change. One example of a time when the direct approach is particularly useful is in situations where there is a clear billing error. It begins by stating the action you would like the other party to take.
“Please remove Item X from your invoice number 1234 to ABC Company as this item was not on the original order (number 425A6).”
In the above example, an error was made in that an item was included on a bill that the customer did not order. Most companies are willing to quickly correct this error if you can show them the original order did not include that item.
The Indirect Approach
This method of complaining is typically used when the situation is more delicate. For purposes of illustration, imagine that as a small business owner, you contract for the services of another small business owner in your local area. Up to this point, you have had a great working relationship. Lately, however, you have noticed that the quality of service provided by this company is slipping. This is affecting your business operations, and you want to remedy the situation without offending the other party. This would be a good time to use the indirect approach to complaining by first providing some background to the situation before stating the complaint and what outcome you want.
“Currently we are in Phase 3 of developing the GizmoWidget for WhizBang Company. This project must be completed by April 30. In order to complete this project on time, we must install Part Number 3x into every GizmoWidget.
In the past, we have found your Part 3x to be very high in quality, and your delivery was always timely. We have noticed that our last two shipments of Part 3x did not arrive on time, and when they did arrive many of the individual parts were defective.
To date, we have on hand 300 defective parts, which we are returning. Please send non-defective replacement parts within one week’s time.
Thank you for giving this matter the attention it deserves.”
Communication Plays a Key Role
More Tips for Effective Complaints
Remember to keep your body language “open”. Try not to cross your arms, tap your foot, or place your hand on your hip. It can be difficult, but try to smile and use eye contact in a friendly manner. Take a few deep breaths before approaching the person.
Sometimes being in the position of having to lodge a complaint evokes strong emotions. Try to remember why you are there, which is to solve a problem. Begin by trying to determine just who it is that you need to speak with. The receptionist, or other lower level worker can often refer you to the best person to handle your complaint.
When you are speaking, remember to keep your voice well modulated.
Over the Phone
Be aware of your voice quality. Try not to breathe rapidly, or sigh into the phone. Take a moment or two prior to calling, to make notes about what you want to say. Avoid speaking too loudly. This happens a lot over the phone, when a person is feeling they aren’t being heard or understood.
Again, as with an in-person contact, find out who you need to speak with.
When you are connected with this person, state your case calmly and succinctly. Having all of your information together prior to making the call is best. That way you come across as being organized and informed. Know what you want to accomplish with this call, and be aware of things like return policy, etc.
When lodging a complaint as a professional in your industry and as the owner of your small business, treat the e-mail you are writing as if it were a letter. Include a salutation, body, and closing. Using one of the above approaches, be sure to include all information necessary for the person on the other end to route the request, or solve the problem.
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© 2012 Nancy Owens