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Managing Complaints – Are You Ready To Resolve Them?

Some organisations devote whole teams to managing complaints. In early years we don’t have that luxury; it’s yet another one of those things we must all do

  • Managing Complaints – Are You Ready To Resolve Them?

A huge part of being a leader is managing complaints and disagreements. It may be one of the aspects of your role that you dread; some thrive on it, loving the opportunities to support others to reach resolutions.

Some organisations devote whole teams to managing complaints. In early years we don’t have that luxury; it’s yet another one of those things we must all do.

What’s absolutely clear is each and every leader should have strategies to deal with complaints. Sometimes you can see them brewing, but more often than not they present themselves when you’re busy doing something else. And they can come from all directions: from children, parents, partner organisations, next door neighbours, funders, clients, management, staff, and volunteers. So, knowing how to structure a response, without making things worse in the short term, is an essential part of all our tool boxes. It’s part of team leadership, customer care and time management as well. 

Try APAC

What’s worked for me is something I picked up when training customer care staff in the tour operator world. A useful way to remember it is APAC: Acknowledge, Probe, Answer, and Close.

Acknowledging a person’s complaint is the single most effective strategy of all. Demonstrating you have heard them, and believe they have a point, will show you’re not going to argue. This will support them to move their energies away from trying to convince you, and on to working with you to tell you more. Fail to acknowledge and they may get angrier, louder, more aggressive, or frustrated. And both of you will be going nowhere fast.

It’s the second stage, probe, where both sides, but especially you, can ask for some of the facts that will help you understand the problem, or events leading to, it in detail. Through this stage your well-practised body language and empathy can show how you’re likely to respond with some serious and considered thoughts. Including the word ‘yes’ frequently during the acknowledgement and probing will also help.

Then give your answer. But make sure you give yourself sufficient time to think, so you don’t rush into saying things you don’t mean or will regret. This may be a few moments, a few minutes or even hours or days if this is appropriate. But in the heat of the moment, phrases like “let me think about that for a second” conveys that your silence isn’t empty or unhelpful, but about you carefully considering what they’ve said, and what you’re going to do.

Close is all about gaining agreement that your answer is acceptable. If not, remember APAC and probe some more, then return to reiterate or replace your answer, before reaching the close again.

James Hempsall OBE is director of Hempsall’s training, research and consultancy. Visit hempsalls.com or follow on Twitter: @jhempsall.

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