Handling Complaints and Enquiries: Best Practices for Small Business Owners

Handling complaints and enquiries - header

You may often handle customer complaints and enquiries as a small business owner.

Whether it’s a customer complaint about a product or service or a question about a particular aspect of your business, handling these situations correctly is essential for maintaining customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Studies have shown that customers who have their complaints resolved are more likely to become repeat customers than those who do not.

In this blog post, we’ll discuss the importance of handling complaints and enquiries correctly in small businesses and providing some best practices and tips.

We’ll cover the procedures for handling complaints and questions and the importance of training your staff to handle these situations. 

By the end of this blog post, you’ll better understand how to handle complaints and enquiries effectively and how to turn these situations into positive experiences for your customers.

Handling complaints and enquiries - customer service 1

Importance of Complaints and Enquiries Handling

Handling complaints and enquiries is crucial for the success of your small business. When customers feel that their concerns are being heard and addressed, they are likelier to continue doing business with you and recommend your company to others. On the other hand, poor handling of complaints and enquiries can lead to negative reviews, lost customers, and damage to your business’s reputation.

For example, imagine a customer who receives a faulty product and tries to contact your business for a replacement but is met with unresponsive or unhelpful customer service. This customer will likely become frustrated and leave a negative review online, which can deter other potential customers from doing business with you.

Similarly, imagine a customer enquiring about your business’s services but is met with unprofessional or unhelpful responses from your staff. This customer may form a negative impression of your business and choose to take their business elsewhere.

In contrast, if you handle complaints and enquiries promptly, professionally, and empathetically, you can turn these situations into positive customer experiences. By resolving issues and answering queries effectively, you can improve customer satisfaction and loyalty and enhance your business’s reputation.

Handling complaints and enquiries - customer service 2

Procedures for Handling Complaints and Enquiries

Clear policies and procedures for handling complaints and enquiries are essential for ensuring consistency and fairness in handling these situations. This helps ensure that customers feel heard and their concerns are taken seriously.

At a high level, agreed procedures for handling complaints and enquiries should include the following:

  • Clear communication channels for customers to make complaints or enquiries, such as a designated email address or phone number.
  • A documented process for how complaints and enquiries are received, recorded, and escalated if necessary.
  • A timeline for responding to complaints and enquiries, including interim updates to the customer.
  • A process for resolving complaints and enquiries, including options for compensation or remediation if necessary.
  • Regularly review and evaluate the complaints and enquiries handling procedures to ensure they are practical and up-to-date.

Clear policies and procedures can also help protect your business from legal or regulatory issues. 

For example, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) have specific complaint-handling procedures that their member firms must follow. By familiarising yourself with these procedures, you can develop best-in-class methods for your small business.

For example, the RICS complaints handling procedure emphasises the importance of acknowledging complaints promptly, providing regular updates to the complainant, and seeking to resolve complaints fairly and transparently. 

Similarly, the FCA complaints handling procedure emphasises the importance of ensuring that complaints are dealt with promptly and fairly and that complainants are kept informed throughout the process.

By drawing on these procedures and other best practices in handling complaints and enquiries, you can develop effective policies and procedures for your small business that can help improve customer satisfaction and loyalty and enhance your business’s reputation.

Handling complaints and enquiries - customer service 3

Handling Customer Complaints

Handling a complaint professionally and empathetically is essential when a customer makes a complaint. Here are some best practices:

Complaint resolution

  1. Active listening: When a customer makes a complaint, actively listen to what they are saying without interrupting them. Show them you take their concerns seriously by acknowledging their feelings and summarising what they say.
  2. Empathy: Show empathy towards the customer by acknowledging their frustration and demonstrating that you understand their feelings, helping to de-escalate the situation and make the customer feel heard.
  3. De-escalation: If the situation is tense, try to de-escalate it by remaining calm and avoiding becoming defensive. Stay focused on the issue and avoid getting sidetracked by irrelevant details.
  4. Resolution: Work with the customer to develop a solution that addresses their concerns, such as offering compensation, remediation, or simply apologising.

De-escalating tense situations

  • Stay calm: Try to remain calm and composed, even if the customer is upset or angry. Avoid taking the customer’s tone or behaviour personally, and focus on finding a solution to the problem.
  • Don’t make promises you can’t keep: Be honest with the customer about what you can and can’t do to resolve their complaint. Promise something you can deliver, leading to further frustration and disappointment.
  • Follow up: After resolving the complaint, follow up with the customer to ensure they are satisfied, reinforcing the customer’s loyalty to your business.

Effective service

  • Acknowledge the customer’s feelings: “I understand how frustrating it must be to receive a faulty product. I’m sorry for the inconvenience.”
  • Offer a solution: “We can offer you a replacement product or a refund for your purchase.”
  • Follow up: “Thank you for bringing this issue to our attention. We will do everything we can to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. Please let us know if there is anything else we can do for you.”
Handling complaints and enquiries - customer service 4

Handling Enquiries

In addition to handling complaints, small business owners also need to be able to handle customer enquiries effectively. Here are some best practices:

Managing different types of enquiries

  1. Telephone enquiries: When answering a telephone enquiry, respond promptly and politely. Listen carefully to the customer’s question or concern and provide a clear and concise response.
  2. Email enquiries: Respond to email enquiries promptly, ideally within 24 hours. Use a professional tone and ensure that your response is clear and concise.
  3. Social media enquiries: Respond to social media enquiries promptly, ideally within a few hours. Keep your responses professional and avoid engaging in arguments or heated discussions.

Providing accurate and timely responses

  • Understand the customer’s needs: Ensure you understand what the customer asks before responding. Ask clarifying questions if necessary to ensure that you are providing accurate information.
  • Provide a clear and concise response: Avoid using technical jargon or complicated language. Provide a simple, easy-to-understand response that answers the customer’s question or concern.
  • Follow up: If you need to gather more information or consult with another team member before responding, let the customer know when they can expect to hear back.

Handling of customer enquiries:

  • Telephone enquiry: “Thank you for calling our store. How may I assist you today?” (Listen to the customer’s question or concern) “Certainly, we have that item in stock at £XX. Would you like me to hold it for you?”
  • Email enquiry: “Thank you for your email. We appreciate your interest in our products/services. In response to your question, we currently offer XYZ, priced at £XX. Let us know if you have any further questions.”
  • Social media enquiry: “Thank you for reaching out to us on social media. We are sorry to hear that you had a negative experience with our product/service. Please send us a direct message with more details about your experience and we will do our best to resolve the issue.”
Handling complaints and enquiries - customer service 5

Training and Support for Complaints and Enquiries Handling

Small business owners should invest in training their employees to handle complaints and enquiries effectively. Here’s why:

  • Improved customer satisfaction: Employees trained in complaints and enquiries handling are better equipped to handle difficult situations and resolve customer complaints, improving customer satisfaction.
  • Enhanced business reputation: When customers feel that their complaints and enquiries are heard, it can help to enhance the business’s reputation and improve customer loyalty.
  • Legal compliance: Some industries have specific regulations around complaints handling. Ensuring employees are trained in these regulations can help the business remain compliant and avoid legal issues.

If you need advice and support in handling comments and complaints, there are several sources that you can turn to:

  • Trade associations: Many industries have trade associations that offer guidance and support on best practices for complaint handling.
  • Regulatory bodies: Some industries have regulatory bodies that oversee complaints handling procedures. These bodies can provide guidance and support on complying with industry regulations.
  • Professional development organisations: Several professional development organisations, such as the Institute of Customer Service, offer training and support on complaints handling.

Here’s an overview of complaints handling training programs:

  • Internal training: Small businesses can develop training programs for employees on complaint handling, including training on active listening, empathy, and de-escalation techniques.
  • Online training: Small business owners can utilise several online training programs to train employees on complaints handling. These programs typically offer modules on effective communication, handling demanding customers, and conflict resolution.
  • Professional development courses: Several training courses, such as the Chartered Institute of Customer Relationship Management’s Complaints Handling Course, offer training on complaints handling.

Training and support for complaints and enquiries handling can help small businesses enhance their customer service and improve their overall business reputation.

Final thoughts - complaints and enquiries

Final Thoughts and Recommendations:

Small business owners should prioritise complaints and enquiries handling as part of their overall customer service strategy. By investing in training and support for employees and implementing clear procedures for handling complaints and questions, businesses can enhance their reputation, build customer loyalty, and ensure legal compliance.

Here are some final recommendations for small business owners:

  • Develop clear procedures for handling complaints and enquiries and ensure employees are trained.
  • Encourage employees to actively listen and show empathy when handling customer complaints.
  • Provide employees with the tools and resources to handle enquiries effectively, such as scripts and FAQs.
  • Regularly review and assess your complaints and questions handling procedures to identify areas for improvement.

By following these recommendations, small businesses can create a customer-centric culture that values effective complaints and enquiries handling and enhances overall business success.