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10 ways to handle complaints

Dean James

Handling complaints with the right language can save time, money and reputations, says Roshni Goyate of The Writer

The numbers are in. The FSA has said that complaints about banks are up by 59 per cent. But are businesses handling their complaints in the best way?

At The Writer, we work with financial organisations – and many other companies – who have to tackle customer complaints all the time.

People respond much better when they’re hearing from a real person rather than ‘the company’ or ‘the organisation'.

We’ve seen that when the language isn’t hitting the spot, it can cost a company. Customers end up confused and angry, complaints come back again and again, and everyone involved gets stressed.

But deal with customers in the right way, and with the right language, and you could save time, money and make sure your reputation remains unscathed.

Here are our 10 tips to handling complaints the right way.

1) Ask the big three questions

We tend to tune in to what we think we should write, rather than what the reader wants to read.

At The Writer, we use a trick to make sure we always stay focused on the reader: What do I want my reader to know? What do I want my reader to feel? What do I want my reader to do?

2) Cover all the bases

Make sure you tackle each and every point your customer has brought up (though you don’t always need to go into reams of detail).

If you’ve ignored something that they've brought up, you’ll probably be hearing from them again. Following tip number one should help you avoid that in the first place.

3) Put your main point first

Sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many times we’ve seen the main point – especially if it’s bad news – buried at the bottom of a piece of writing.

In those cases, your reader will probably skip to the end anyway. So don’t frustrate them; put the main point at the top.



4) Don’t show your working

You don’t want to inundate readers with information and waffle.

Even if everything you’ve included is related to the complaint, ask yourself: how much of this will be genuinely useful to my customer? If it’s irrelevant (especially if it’s the ins and outs of your internal processes), you can probably leave it out.

5) Don’t hide behind ‘the company’

People respond much better when they’re hearing from a real person rather than ‘the company’ or ‘the organisation’. So use personal pronouns like ‘I’ or ‘we’ to show you’re a real person taking care of the complaint.

6) Use natural words

Formal words, jargon and business speak: we see that sort of language sneak in when we’re feeling defensive or uncomfortable. It makes us sound like robots.

You’re probably more engaging on the phone because you use natural words. So put those natural words into your writing and your reader will react better to them.

7) Beware of the stock phrases

We sincerely apologise for the inconvenience. We regret to inform you. Due to unforeseen circumstances. How many times have we all seen these words? They’re the stock phrases we’re now either numb to or annoyed by.

Our most recent poll looked into people’s reactions to train announcements. The analysis showed that people are 71 per cent less likely to make a complaint or claim compensation for delays when drivers make sincere apologies for problems instead of using recorded statements.

Even the once totally neutral 'If you have any further queries please do not hesitate to contact us..'. now jars in its stock-phraseyness. Avoid these type of phrases and you’ll instantly start sounding more sincere.

8) Take responsibility

We sometimes use passive sentences to avoid taking responsibility. 'A mistake was made' is passive – we can’t tell who made the mistake. 'We made a mistak'e is active. And it can be quite disarming to see a company put their hands up and be accountable for something.

9) Break it up with subheadings

Sometimes, detail and explanation are unavoidable. Subheadings will make it easier to take in. They help readers navigate through a bit of writing – even more so if you summarise a paragraph in the subheading (rather than just using labels like 'Your complaint' or 'Our conclusion').



10) Use bullet points or numbered lists

If you need your reader to take specific steps, or even if you’re just setting out your argument in a logical way, bullet points or numbered lists will help make your words super-clear. That’ll help avoid that back and forth.

Roshni Goyate is a writer at the world's largest language consultancy The Writer, where she trains people to write better responses to complaints. For more information visit thewriter.com

 

    Comments

  • Linda Lee

    There's definitely a skill involved in getting your point across in a more effective way to increase chance of uptake.

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