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Make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear

Handling a customer beef is never an easy task.  The fact is, regardless of how well a company is run, there will always be customers with complaints, many of which are very legitimate.  So how can we best handle these beefs?  Better yet, how can we MANAGE THEM so we know that they will be taken care of in a timely manner?  We all have heard the stats that say a dissatisfied customer will gladly tell dozens of his friends how bad his experience was or worse yet, turns it into a legal matter.  So where do you start?  How can you create a long-term loyal customer from a bad customer experience?  Let’s take a look.

Step 1:  Identify:  People, Product, Process, and Price

You must start by understanding the 4 P’s of customer beef management.  Seriously, if you think about it, 99.9% of all customer complaints fall into 1 of the 4 categories listed above (the 4 P’s).


All people complaints need to be taken seriously and acted upon rather quickly because they typically point out a weakness in training and can directly reflect back on the “character” of your organization.  You may also see trends of the same nature when tracking people complaints simply because if one employee sees another employee treating a customer poorly, they may think they have the green light to do the same thing.


Product complaints, although sometimes serious, can more easily be overcome.   In the majority of cases, the customer does not hold us personally responsible for imperfections in the products we sell them as long as we put a satisfactory process in place to listen to their issues and respond accordingly.


Process complaints are typically harder to identify and many times get overlooked.  Often, customers will think they have a “people problem” when in fact it is a company process that is broken or not well defined.  When identifying process problems, you will quickly find that most of them are a direct result of a lack of training and the ability to get everyone up to speed on your best practices.


All too often, we hear about price as an issue.  “that is more than you quoted me”, “that is not the price I was told,” “that is too much money.”  Unfortunately, these are not always legitimate price complaints.  They are, in fact, the customer telling us that they are not willing to pay us that much because they felt shortchanged in one of the other areas, people, product, or process.  Let’s face it; we are willing to pay more if we are buying from a great person, with a solid product, through a great process.

Step 2:  Document with the customer

When documenting customer beefs, come along side the customer and let them know you want to correctly document their concern.  Be cautious of using the word PROBLEM, use softer words like concern or issue.  If you are taking the customer complaint over the phone, let the customer know you are writing everything down or typing everything out.  They will gladly invest the time if they feel they are getting somewhere.  Anything is better in their eyes vs. I will have to have Mr. Manager call you back.

Step 3: Establish the next step

It is critical that you let the customer know what the next step is and the timeframe in which it will happen.  In most cases, this should always be within 24 hours after the appropriate people can review the concern and circumstances and create a win-win.

Step 4: Assignment

Who is going to review the issue and resolve the customers concern?  In most cases, these will be assigned based on department as well as the type of concern.

Step 5: Completion steps

Document everything that you did to solve this customer’s issues.  If it did become a legal matter later, your attorneys will thank you for the concise records.  Keep in mind that every step should be documented regardless of how small.

Step 6: Communicate:

Over communicate with the customer during every step of the solution process.  Remember, in most cases, the biggest beefs have to do with the LACK of COMMUNICATION, so don’t let a small issue grow large through silence.  Also, every solution may not be exactly what the customer wanted or was expecting, but because they were heavily communicated with, the actual problem will be lessened.

Step 7. Reporting

Make sure you document every beef in your company either using software such as the CPR Network from Captivated, or a simple spreadsheet.  At the end of the day, week, or month, you should clearly be able to identify open and closed issues by department and by one of the 4 P’s.  Of course, aging problems can become larger than life if they become legal matters.  I highly recommend the discipline to come to a resolution and set time limits on every open issue, regardless of how small it may seem to you. 


In many cases you should identify a specific team of qualified people in your company who handle customer complaints.  Document your processes so everyone knows how to handle an unhappy customer.  Also, look for trends that may involve certain people or broken processes.  Before long, you may be giving away a silk purse with every purchase.  🙂

Note, I personally saw two poor examples of customer feedback channels in the last week. One at a great national wholesaler that literally had a comment card and a sign on the wall. The other was a place famous for selling burgers. They had a sign on the door that encouraged me to give feedback and offered a free sandwich if I scanned a receipt and visited a website. Sadly, I went in there to get a fish sandwich for my Mom who is in a nursing home and the counter service was so poor that no one even acknowledged or even looked at the 5 of us waiting for at least 4-5 minutes. Needless to say, I walked out without the fish sandwich for my Mom. She had to settle for a slider. 🙂

Anyone have any other bad feedback channel examples you would like to add?