Copywriters and dealing with complaints

A guest blog by Paul Keating of PKM Marketing DragonPaul Keating

Everyone at some point has had to complain about a faulty product or a drop in service levels, although it is said in the UK we are not often seen as having a complaining culture.

There are many ways to view complaints as we shall read further on, but it’s important to examine a complaint from both sides to understand how best to deal with them.

From the client’s point of view

How many times have you bought something from a shop, got it home and unwrapped it, and it either didn’t work or the item simply did not match the description? What did you about it? Did you box it up and put it away? Or did you take it back and demand a refund or replacement? How did the shop or organisation treat you when you took it back? You might have had an apology and without a quibble, the goods might have been replaced or your money refunded. That was you exercising your statutory rights.

On the other hand, you may have been faced with an inexperienced member of staff who did not assist you in the way you were expecting, after all; the customer is always right, true?

As customers we expect goods and services we purchase to work and meet our expectations first time without question. However this isn’t always the case and we are left to make a complaint. It is how our complaint is dealt with that makes up our perception of the organisation as a whole. More importantly, that very person who is dealing with our complaint, the ambassador of that organisation if you like, will be the one we judge. It will be their reaction and behaviour that changes how we feel about the whole establishment.

When we have occasion to complain, we need to feel our complaint is being treated seriously and that the outcome will be favourable. There is an expectation by most people that the complaint should be logged, that we will have a response within a set timeframe, and most importantly, that we are given regular updates until the complaint is resolved.

From your point of view

It’s very difficult for a copywriter to be on the receiving end of a complaint. It’s hard not to take complaints personally.

Coming from a police background and working with the public at a time when they felt the need to complain about lack of service and poor response, has given me a fresh viewpoint in dealing with complaints.

When someone is shouting, swearing and screaming at you to sort their problem out, I would challenge anyone not to slightly lose it and wobble off to the nearest pub if they haven’t had some sort of formal training in customer service.

Dealing with complaints is all about being able to communicate with people, to be able to listen objectively to a problem, and ensure you have all the facts possible to reach a successful resolution.

The following ten points are invaluable to help with this process:

  1. Quick thinking: Once you receive a complaint, don’t leave it. Reply to the letter, email, phone call, blog post or tweet as soon as possible, no matter how outrageous you might think it is.
  2. Observe and take note: Try and be open-minded and understanding about the situation. Write down anything you feel is important and ask questions.
  3. Make an apology: Regardless of your opinion, offering some form of apology can help. While in some extreme cases it may not be legally advisable to apologise, you can still say ‘I’m sorry you feel that way’, ‘I’m sorry that wasn’t my intention’, or ‘I am sorry for your inconvenience’. This shows your sympathy and may help to calm the situation.
  4. Be composed: In high stress situations it’s easy to become irritable, but if you allow this to happen you might say something you regret which could have repercussions for your business. If you find yourself becoming irritated, suggest you’ll call the client back and try to take some time out for yourself to calm down.
  5. Be positive: Try and take an optimistic approach to the problem and focus on what you can do to help, rather than what you can’t do.
  6. Think of your business: Whilst you are dealing with a complaint, show genuine concern. This could help turn the situation into a positive outcome, helping with future business dealings and ultimately aiding your professional reputation.
  7. Communicate regularly: Keep your client in the know if the problem cannot be solved straight away. They will only become irritated if they don’t know what’s happening, so stay in contact and explain how you’re tackling the problem.
  8. Own the problem: If the problem is yours, take responsibility for it solve it as best you can. If it’s a project where other freelancers are involved, find out who is responsible. Make sure you delegate it properly so all parties know who is responsible for correcting the mistake. As the first point of contact, the client will be looking to you for answers, so make sure you address them straight away and don’t just leave them hanging on.
  9. Discover the reasons: As well as solving the problem in the here and now, it’s important to understand why the problem happened so it can be avoided in the future. Make a note of lessons learnt and see what you can do to change your processes to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
  10. Serious complaints: If you’ve tried to resolve the problem without success, it might be time to call in a third party such as a legal adviser, who can offer more impartial advice and a new perspective on the problem.

Like many of the challenges in your copywriting career, managing any complaints is just another learning curve. While a complaint from a client might seem like the end of the world at the time, dealt with properly, it needn’t be a completely negative experience and might even strengthen your relationship.

Paul Keating has many years’ experience in complaints handling, most recently working for Bedfordshire Police Customer Services. Today, Paul owns and manages his own marketing and website design company, PKM Marketing Dragon.

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