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Training staff to handle complaints

Training staff to handle complaints

Just as it’s best for you to be confident in dealing with customers and to know when to offer returns, refunds or replacements, the same applies to your workers.

Help your staff know when to take action themselves, and when to call in someone more senior. It’s all part of offering good customer service.


Well-trained staff

The best things you and your staff 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.

Obligations under the Consumer Guarantees Act(external link) — Consumer Protection

In doing the job

Consumer law says you and your workers must carry out a service with reasonable care and skill.

  • Reasonable care means taking steps to do a good job, eg a painter putting drop sheets down to guard against splatters. 
  • Reasonable skill means an average level of competence for a trained worker.

You don’t have to hire experts decorated with industry awards. But you must make sure your people can do the tasks they are paid to do. This might mean extra training, either on the job or on a course.

In dealing with complaints

It’s best if one person investigates and decides what — if any — remedy is required. You may want all workers who have contact with customers to be able to handle minor complaints. For more serious complaints, it’s best if someone senior takes over as soon as possible.

Communication is key. If a customer feels fobbed off, it will not reflect well on your business. The customer is more likely to complain to others, either on social media or in person. And if they take it to court or a disputes tribunal, lack of action will count against you.

Regularly remind your workers:

  • Be polite at all times.
  • Don’t agree on the spot to all requests for a refund, return or replacement. Give examples when this is OK, eg replace a poorly made coffee, and when it’s not, eg take contact details for serious complaints. 
  • One person should handle a complaint from start to finish, with your support if needed.
  • If they aren’t confident about handling a complaint, pass it on to you or a trusted staff member — and tell the customer who will look into it.
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Useful templates

Use these templates so you, your staff and your customers know how complaints will be handled:

Refund policy sign [PDF, 796 KB]

Complaint record form [PDF, 825 KB]

Complaints process checklist [PDF, 563 KB]

It’s also 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.

Five-step guide to staff training

Here are five important steps to get — and keep — your customer-facing staff on the ball.

  1. Explain to new workers what to do if a customer complains. Give examples from your business. Try using our visual guide or returns quiz as a training aid.
  2. Run regular staff check-ins. Try a spot quiz on “can they get a refund if…” or ask staff to act out a common complaint. Talk about what to do and what not to do.
  3. Help staff know the products or services on offer. This reduces the risk of over- or underselling. And it means better customer service.
  4. If you’re not at work, try to roster on a trusted staff member to help handle tricky complaints in person. Make sure workers can contact you if needed.
  5. Keep helpful resources handy and up to date. This might be printouts of our complaint form and checklist by the counter, or a one-page explainer on consumer law. You could also pin up our visual guide to consumer rights where staff can see it.
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