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Reducing risk of complaints

The best way to cut down on complaints is to get good systems and processes in place. This might mean:

  • clear information for customers
  • collecting and analysing data on complaints
  • robust packaging and reliable delivery services.

It’s quicker in the long run to do what you can to prevent problems arising. This will make life easier for you and keep your customers happier — all of which makes your business stronger.

Get yourself sorted

The best things you can do to head off problems are:

  • Be confident with customers — even if a discussion turns tricky.
  • Know your products or services inside out.
  • Know what consumer laws say you must do if someone complains.

If a customer makes a complaint that seems unreasonable — or they don’t give you enough information up front — be polite but assertive. It’s your right to investigate complaints. Find out as much as you can before deciding what — if any — remedy to offer.

The customer is always right.

Clear information for customers

This might be a refunds sign next to your till, a plain English contract or an easy-to-navigate website. If customers can see you know and respect their rights under consumer laws, it gives both sides confidence in the sale.

It also helps head off complaints you’re unlikely to accept. If you display a sign that says, “no returns if a customer changes their mind”, they know they can’t bring back a dress that turns out to be unflattering. If they try to return it anyway, it’s your right to refuse.

It’s a good idea to print out our visual guide to the Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA). Pin it up where you and any staff can easily check it, eg the break room or back of the staff toilet door.

Obligations under the CGA (external link)  — Consumer Protection

This is a text version of our visual guide.  It's aimed at people who use screen readers, or who prefer to take in information by reading.

What you must do for customers

The Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA) gives guidelines for businesses on what they must provide to customers. If a product or service you provide doesn’t meet these requirements, you must give your customer a remedy. But if you buy a product or service for your business, you can't rely on the CGA for a remedy if something goes wrong.

Services

  • Carried out with reasonable care and skill
  • Done properly to an acceptable standard
  • Fit for a particular purpose
  • Results in what the customer told you they needed
  • Carried out in a reasonable time
  • Completed in an acceptable time if a deadline was not agreed beforehand
  • Charged at a reasonable price
  • Cost a reasonable amount if the price was not set beforehand

Products

  • Of acceptable quality
  • In good working order and free from defects
  • Fit for a particular purpose 
  • Does what the customer told you they needed
  • Match the description
  • The same as the product description or sample model
  • Arrive on time and in good condition
  • Delivered undamaged and at the agreed time
It's best if only senior people in your business deal with potentially serious complaints.

It's best if only senior people in your business deal with potentially serious complaints.

If someone senior isn’t available, workers should take contact details and alert you as soon as possible.

Training staff to handle complaints

Supply chain problems

Some customer complaints are down to issues that stem from your suppliers or manufacturers. Examples include:

  • a faulty part or ingredient in a product you’ve made
  • delayed shipments that hold up your work
  • breakages caused by your courier.

Once you’ve confirmed it’s a genuine complaint, give your customer a remedy — or let them know you are working with your supplier to resolve the problem. Update them regularly.

Don’t tell your customer to take it up with the supplier. If they come to you, it’s up to you to resolve it.

Complaining to your supplier

Once you’ve given your customer a remedy, take it up with your supplier so you’re not left out of pocket.

Before you make contact, check your contract or sales agreement to see if:

  • any terms have been broken 
  • it sets out any rights to compensation
  • the supplier has contracted out of consumer laws when selling to other businesses.

Business-to-business sales often include a written statement contracting out of the Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA) — meaning the buyer can’t use this law to claim a remedy if something goes wrong. This law protects those buying for domestic or household use only.

You may be able to claim under other laws or the terms of your contract. See Consumer Protection’s website for details.

Faulty products and services bought by businesses (external link) — Consumer Protection

Do forge strong relationships with your suppliers. If something goes wrong, they should want to take steps to prevent it happening again — even if they’ve contracted out. Otherwise they risk losing your business.

Consumer problems caused by suppliers (external link) — Consumer Protection

Step-by-step

Products damaged during delivery

What you can do to reduce this risk:

  • Test different packaging methods and materials. The aim is to minimise breakages without spending a fortune on packaging.
  • If you or your workers do the deliveries, check how vehicles are loaded as well as the delivery itself.
  • If you use a delivery company, check their terms and conditions. Make sure you know who is liable for any breakages.

How to handle this complaint

Consumer problems caused by suppliers (external link) — Consumer Protection

Do send test parcels to yourself to try out both the packaging and the delivery service.

Do send test parcels to yourself to try out both the packaging and the delivery service.

ImportingTip8ChoosingAReliableOverseasSupplier

Case study

Fixing a broken delivery process

After a run of customer complaints about deliveries of broken ceramics, potter Kai is fed up. He’s losing money providing replacements, and customer goodwill has taken a hit due to complaints posted on his Facebook page.

He starts to dig into what might be going wrong. Is it the packaging or the couriers?

First Kai tests his packaging and finds the ceramics inside only break if dropped from a height. So he talks to the owner of the courier company, Kathryn. She promises to investigate — she wants to keep Kai as her own customer.

Kathryn finds all the broken packages were delivered by the same driver. He hadn’t noticed the “Handle with care” stickers and had simply thrown packages into his van. She puts him under supervision, and lets Kai know her drivers are under orders to take extra care.

Because Kai regularly posts orders to customers, he and Kathryn also agree on a written contract between their two businesses:

  • Kathryn’s company will pay up to a set limit for accidental damage to parcels.
  • Kai will have seven days from the delivery date to make a claim.

With good systems back in place, Kai is confident he’s minimising the risk of future breakages.

Sales agreements and contracts

Consumer problems caused by suppliers (external link) — Consumer Protection

Don't delete negative social media comments out of hand.  A business page with no complaints can raise suspicions.

Don't delete negative social media comments out of hand. A business page with no complaints can raise suspicions.

But one where customer complaints have clearly been resolved can build trust.

Step-by-step

Handling complaints on social media

Here’s a five-step plan to handle complaints posted on your social media page. Because these complaints are public, quickly resolving them can build credibility and goodwill with current and prospective customers.

  1. Plan ahead: Assign one person to manage social media feedback. This might be you, or a trusted staff member. Prepare a plan, eg a decision tree that covers how to respond and how quickly.
  2. Keep across it: Set up alerts to be notified immediately when someone posts a comment.
  3. Review carefully: Read each comment thoroughly. Delete any that are inappropriate, eg abusive or racist — but if these inappropriate comments include a genuine complaint, respond privately.
  4. Respond quickly: Reply quickly with thanks, an apology and a promise to look into it promptly. Be open, polite and professional.
    • Move the conversation onto a private channel, eg Facebook Messenger, email or phone, to get to grips with the problem. 
    • Do all you can to solve the problem.
    • Then go back to the original comment and ask the person publicly if they are satisfied.
  5. Learn and improve: Feedback offers valuable information about your business. It’s also a chance to test and enhance the way you handle complaints.

Full details of each step are in our article on social media feedback:

How to handle customer feedback on social media

Contracts and sales agreements can be agreed verbally, put in writing, or stated on a receipt or a notice at your counter.

Contracts and sales agreements can be agreed verbally, put in writing, or stated on a receipt or a notice at your counter.

But they must be fair to both sides — the buyer and the seller.

What to put in sales agreements

Step-by-step

Customer goes against your advice

What you can do to reduce this risk:

  1. Find out about the desired result, eg for a paint job or a specialist hair treatment.
  2. Recommend how to achieve that result.
  3. If the customer wants an alternative, eg a different type of paint or a junior stylist, explain how the result may differ.
  4. If they ask you to go with their alternative, you’ve limited your liability against complaints because you gave detailed information about how to get the desired result.

This doesn’t have to be in writing. If someone else, eg a trusted worker or supervisor, is part of the conversation with the customer, that’s enough. But it’s a good idea to note details in an email or on the quote for the job, eg “we recommend ____ but you have chosen ____”. If the customer goes ahead with their choice, it means they accept the risks.

Case study: When a customer makes this complaint

What to put in sales agreements

Do use complaints to improve your customer service and your business as a whole.

Do use complaints to improve your customer service and your business as a whole.

Complaints can be a valuable source of data. Use this data to identify problems — and see if your solutions are working. 

Analysing complaints data

Collect details on what went wrong when dealing with a customer complaint. Make that information work as hard as possible by compiling it in a complaints log. Sort complaints by type, the cause of the problem, and note any remedies given.

This will help you monitor complaints and identify problems that crop up again and again. It will also streamline how you deal with complaints, as you’ll be able to check how you handled similar problems.

By working out what’s going wrong, you can take steps to fix it — or nip a new problem in the bud before it escalates.

This might mean:

  • checking what your workers tell customers at the point of sale
  • offering extra training, eg job skills or product familiarity
  • improving a product you make or a service you offer
  • trying a different product line
  • raising issues with suppliers or your delivery company
  • switching to a new supplier or delivery company.

By sorting out recurring problems, you save yourself time and money — and make your business run more smoothly and easily.

Consumer problems caused by suppliers (external link) — Consumer Protection