rule number one
Don’t sit on it and respond quickly by sending an acknowledgment letter or short email saying you have received their complaint and that you hope to respond to them by….. (give a date) – 7 days is good practice(if not sooner). Any longer people feel irritated.
If for any reason your response is going to take longer, keep them updated with another email or letter, saying briefly why you need more time and give them a new time frame for your response. Again don’t keep them waiting too long as this gets things off to a bad start.
keep things in writing
Second most important rule. Keep everything in writing -use email or a typed letter. This will give you a record of what you have said and when you said it. Never underestimate how important a written record can be.
A void using the phone where possible and especially for anything important you may want to say. If you want to keep the personal touch, by all means speak to the customer and keep it calm and professional and say you’ll consider matters and drop them an email or letter. Asking for their email, shows genuine intent.
prepare your response
Always date your letter (unless you are using email). I know it sounds obvious, but dates do get missed.
Use numbered paragraphs to deal with what you want to say. It makes your letter easier to read and it gives you a clear structure to set out your position, point by point.
Always use a timeline referring to dates you reached the initial agreement with the customer.
Summarise from your point of view what was agreed with them and when( give dates).
Keep it factual and concise and above all polite. When getting over your point of view to the customer , use phrases such as; “from our point of view”…… ” We have tried to meet your expectations by…..” “we are disappointed that we were not given the opportunity to……” and similar such phrases.
Try to address every point the customer has made, so nothing is left unaddressed. Otherwise it will leave the customer open to say you have not covered all their concerns.
Even if some points seem trivial and annoying to you, try and address by stating what your view is on the point. Again keep it polite even if you feel miffed! Say…. “we can not fully agree with you on this point, because from our point of view, we…..”
After you have covered the points raised by the customer, say how you intend to deal with their complaint. If you feel the customer is totally unjustified say…. ” on this occasion we regret we are unable to uphold your complaint.”
Keeping it polite and non aggressive is really, really important. Do not mention court at this stage, even if you feel its heading that way, or it will only make matters worse!
If you want to make some kind of proposal to resolve matters with the customer say exactly what you are prepared to offer.
If you have more than one option to put to the customer say you are giving them a couple of options. It makes them feel you are giving them a choice- goes down well!
When making any kind of offer, start with the phrase… “in the circumstances and for no other reason than, we prefer to retain you as a happy customer, we wish to offer you…..”
NB- If there is anything in the letter you don’t want repeated elsewhere( say at Court later) you should mark the letter "Without prejudice” at the top of your letter (just below the name and address of the customer). However to keep things friendly (at this stage) using legal language such as without prejudice, puts people on the blackfoot, so only use if you REALLY don’t want your attempts to settle, repeating.
Finally say you would like the customer’s written response to your offer within 7 -14 days. It’s really important to ask for their response in writing, a quick email will suffice. Even if they phone you to accept your offer, say “that’s brilliant, but to tie things up properly, we will need confirmation of what we’ve agreed.” Most people will appreciate this point and it benefits you both. It brings matters to a conclusion and is another record.
If your response to a complaint is polite , factual, to the point and is non threatening, you are more likely to get a better response from whoever reads it. No one likes to receive a harshly worded letter. Such a letter will always create a bad feeling immediately between you and the other party, making them immediately adopt an entrenched position. It’s hard for people not to take it personally! So don’t start off on the wrong foot.
If you follow these rules it will stand you in good stead with a judge, if you have to go to court later, but above all it’s more likely to receive a positive response from the customer.
Roberta Mason is a mediator. She was a solicitor for over 20 years and knows a thing of two about disputes and going to court. She has a real sense of social justice for ordinary people and small business owners