How to Handle Complaints

Unhappy customers are bad news. They can spoil your day and put people off going to your activities or events, even when the things they are saying aren’t true. It is important that their complaints are handled quickly and effectively, to prevent them giving your organisation a reputation it doesn’t deserve.

Remember that the person making the complaint might or might not have a good reason. They might be reacting to unreal expectations, family matters or just be in a bad mood. Either way, they are still customers and you still rely on them to keep your our organisation going, so you should work to keep them happy.

If you change your attitude to complaints, it can actually work to your advantage. After all, the person doing the complaining could be the only one telling you when something is wrong and giving you the chance to improve. Here are some steps for resolving customer complaints which have worked well for other organisations:

    • Respond quickly – as soon as you hear about an unhappy customer, go to them to start the process. Tell them how it will be resolved, and when they can expect to hear back from you.
    • Listen closely – listen to the customer and don’t interrupt them, no matter how tempting it is to ‘set them straight’. They need to tell their story and feel they have been heard. Treat them with genuine courtesy, patience, honestly and fairness. Speak to them directly, rather than go by other people’s versions of the complaint.
    • Show that you understand their complaint – do this by asking questions to get more details and summarising what you think they are saying eg: “Let me get this straight. You thought your child could come on the activity free of charge but when you arrived you were told they would have to pay for admission and they would need to be wearing better shoes. Also, you think you were treated rudely when you were told this. Is that right? Is there anything I’ve missed?”
    • Explain what will happen next you might need to talk to someone else, you might need to fix the system you have been using, or you might need to fix things on the spot. Either way, let the person know what will happen, and when you will get back to them. And of course, make sure you do get back to them when you said you would. If the problem hasn’t be resolved by then, at least let them know what has happened and that you haven’t just forgotten about them. Eg: “Okay, I will need to check with the people who advertised the activity and the people who told you your children couldn’t come. I will get back to you on Friday morning to let you know how it went.”
    • Thank them – thank the customer for bringing the problem to your attention. They have actually done you a favour, after all. What would you rather have a person complaining to you about the service, or a person who just leaves, never to come back? Worse, a customer leaving and taking a group of friends with them, leaving you wondering what went wrong? Eg: “Thanks for letting us know about this. It helps us know how we can improve things for next time.”
    • Look for the best solution ask the customer what they would like as a solution. They will often surprise you by asking for less than you initially thought you’d have to give—especially when they think you are being real with them. In many cases, you have already given them some of what they needed- the chance to be heard, and that they are important to you. In other cases, you might not be able to give them everything they would like. If this happens, you should be able to explain why this is the case.
    • Follow-up follow up in about a week to make sure the customer is completely satisfied. If the problem hasn’t been completely resolved, let them know what has happened so far.

Even if the customer isn’t able to get the exact outcome they wanted they should at least know that you take them seriously, that you respect them and their opinions and that they have some control over how things will be in future.

An excellent sample client complaints policy can be found at:
Client Complaints P and P (104 KB)

This download is part of the collection of policies from Tri Community Exchange –

Grievances and Dispute Resolution

An employee or volunteer who believes they have a dispute or grievance should raise the matter with their immediate supervisor as a first step towards resolution. The two parties should discuss the matter openly and work together to achieve a satisfactory outcome.

The Manager or Supervisor should check for clarification of the issue to ensure they fully understand the complainant’s concern. Managers should follow the standard procedure of offering the employee/volunteer the opportunity to have an independent witness at the discussion, ensuring they follow the steps outlined below:

    • If more than one person is present, establish the role of each person.
    • Outline the process to be followed.
    • Inform the parties that any information obtained in the conduct of the review is confidential.
    • Listen to the complainant and diagnose the problem.
    • Take accurate and detailed notes of all conversations (including dates and people involved) and attach any supporting documentation.
    • If deemed necessary, provide the employee/volunteers with a written summary of the meeting and clarification of the next steps to be taken.
    • The Manager must ensure that the manner in which the meeting is conducted will be conducive to maintaining positive working relationships and will provide a fair, objective and independent analysis of the situation.
    • All parties are to maintain complete confidentiality at all times.
    • If the matter is not resolved and the employee/volunteer wishes to pursue it, the issue should be discussed with a Human Resources Officer, then, if necessary, the General Manager. Again, the matter is to be discussed openly and objectively with management to ensure it is fully understood.
    • If the grievance/dispute is one of a confidential or serious nature involving the Employee/Volunteer’s Manager, the complainant may discuss the issue directly with the most senior person in the organisation