Coping With the Chronic Complaining Customer

Editor’s note: The following article originally appeared in Credit Today, the leading publication for the credit professional, a CMA Partner. Click here for Special CMA Member $10 Trial!

Like it or not, handling complaints is part of the work that goes on in a credit department. And it’s a task that’s vital to your company’s success. How well you handle gripes from disgruntled customers can make the difference between getting paid and keeping the customers–or losing their business altogether.

You answer the phone, hear the voice on the other end of the line, and feel your blood pressure begin to rise. It’s one of your chronic complainers, credit customers that always have a problem. Much as you’d like to turn the call over to someone else, you’re the one of the firing line. How are you going to keep from losing your cool–and losing the customer? Here’s help.

  1. Listen actively. It’s important not to turn a deaf ear to the chronic complainer. To begin with, there is often a legitimate grievance of some kind. If you don’t take corrective steps, the problem could come back to haunt you.

    Key Point:
    Paraphrase the complainer’s main points. Say something like “Excuse me, but do I understand you to say that the package didn’t arrive, you’ve written twice and received no response, and that’s why you didn’t pay your bill?”

    Added point: Be sure to acknowledge the caller’s feelings. A big part of the chronic complainer’s problem is the sense of powerlessness that comes from feeling that nobody knows, cares, or even understands how he or she is suffering. Verbalizing what you take to be the customer’s emotional reaction to the situation helps to break the cycle of blame, ignore, blame-for-ignoring, etc.

  2. Establish the facts. A key feature of chronic complainers is their tendency to exaggerate facts and then to overgeneralize them. Thus, if a chronic complainer tried to call you three times during lunch hour, it becomes: “I tried calling you all day, but, as usual, you were trying to avoid me.”

    Key Point: Limit the scope of the complaint by asking questions that isolate the facts. Ask when, exactly, the customer’s unanswered calls were made, unanswered letters were written, or the problem was first noticed. Check your files or phone logs to verify these statements, and state your findings. Remember to keep the discussion on a factual level. Don’t comment on the implications of the facts because this will lead very naturally to responses like: “You see, I told you your department fouled up.”

  3. Resist the temptation to apologize. Although apologizing for some glitch may seem like the most natural thing in the world, it’s the wrong thing to do when you’re faced with an unhappy credit customer.
    Reason: Since the main thing the person is trying to do is fix blame–not solve problems–your apology will be seen as an open invitation for further blaming.

    Key Point: Ask problem-solving questions. For instance, ask “Would an extended warranty solve your problem?” or “Would a credit to your account be satisfactory?”

  4. Force the complainer to pose solutions. If the chronic complainer ignores your suggested solutions, evades the opportunity to help, and persists in trying to get you to admit what a poor company you work for, throw the ball back into the complainer’s court with this gambit:

    “I have to speak with someone else in 10 minutes. What sort of action plan can we work out in that time?”

    If the customer can’t come up with anything, he or she should at least recognize by this point that you alone can’t take all the blame for the impasse. And if the person does come up with a suggestion–no matter how impractical–you will have at least succeeded in getting him or her to stop complaining. Now your customer should be much more receptive to whatever reasonable compromises you come up with.

This article originally appeared in Credit Today, the leading publication for the credit professional.
Click here for Special CMA Member $10 Trial!