Strategies for dealing with customer complaints (in text form)
January 27, 2015 8:42 PM   Subscribe

I've recently taken a part-time job with duties that include responding negative/complaint emails (from parents of kids in an after-school program). I've had lots of practice responding to these types of situations in person (thanks, retail work), but somehow seeing the comments in text makes them weigh more heavily on me.

Part of it is because having them on the screen means I can read and re-read repeatedly; the difficulty in interpreting tone is also a problem (is this person being curt because they're angry, or is it just the way they write emails? is this person genuinely being nice or is it passive-aggressive "nice" when there really is a problem? etc). A lot of the comments bring up legitimate issues that we are trying to address (this is a student-run program that is growing very quickly and experiencing some "growing pains" as a result), but I am finding it difficult to pass on these comments to the rest of my team in a productive way without bringing a big cloud of negativity along for the ride. What are some strategies I can use to make this a little easier on me, while still being receptive to feedback?
posted by btfreek to Work & Money (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think you should recognize that parents complaining about issues in an after-school program are only very superficially like people making regular retail complaints. The discomfort you are feeling here might have to do with the emotions involved. Assuring parents that their kids are safe, happy and well-tended in your care is not the same as a media customer service person smoothly assuring me they're so sorry I had bad TV service, or someone whose store sold me a crappy toaster fielding my persnickety toaster complaints. These are their kids, remember at all times. There has to be real honesty and trust between the program and the parents. This is to say: don't worry primarily about bringing an attitude of negativity to the people who are apparently not running the program very competently yet. Tell them what the parents are saying, feeling, worrying about. Your main concern should be that they know, in no uncertain terms, that too many of the parents aren't feeling the trust right now. The main point is to fix the problems quickly, not to smooth over the feelings of the kids running -- seemingly not too well yet -- a child care program.
posted by third rail at 9:12 PM on January 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

What is the volume of these comments? Would it be reasonable for you and/or your team to make followup phone calls on each of the comments? (assuming you have the contact info). Or maybe some selected confusing ones? It sounds like you are relatively comfortable with that kind of interaction and it would clear up tone issues.

Otherwise, I would say to just take them at face value (summarize the facts only for your team) and don't try to add the tone component by scouring the length or the possibility of passive-aggressiveness. It's just not there in email a lot of the time...
posted by Tandem Affinity at 9:13 PM on January 27, 2015

Rule number 1:
The customer is always right
Rule number 2:
If the customer is wrong, rule number one applies

Never argue with a client but find a solution that works best for them at that moment.
Evaluate what you need to change in your business or if this client isn't a right fit for you.

It takes 90% of energy to meet the last 10% of clients wishes.
Focus your energy on the 90% of clients you can serve with your skills / organization.
If that doesn't' result in a sustainable business, reevaluate your business.
posted by Mac-Expert at 9:33 PM on January 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Deal with them first in the morning and complete all other work tasks after, if possible. File emails in a different folder and don't look at your email again until the following morning.

I manage literally dozens of contractors in a personal service job and do very close to what you do all day.

Remember, nightmare parents go away after their kids age out of your care program. Retail customers can come back for life. Hope your stress abates soon -- stuff like this gets easier with time and practice, in my experience.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 10:19 PM on January 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'd also keep in mind that people tend to be much more rude from the "displacement" of texting/email (i.e., they are not complaining to an actual human in front of them), so take text complaints with that small grain of salt.
posted by kuanes at 6:32 AM on January 28, 2015

I agree that you should not try to read tone into emails. I know this and yet, just this week received an email that I vacillated between acceptance and defensiveness. I then had an opportunity to run into the person that sent me the email and the experience was vastly different. That person was genuinely trying to give a head's up and was not only sympathetic to the situation, but actually empathetic. Now, will that be true of all the emails you receive, of course not, but try and stick with just the information as stated. I would then be very professional and matter-of-fact with your team and triage the highest priority concerns. I would put safety/bullying at the top, and follow that with concerns that are raised by multiple parents. You could mentally triage this yourself, but I would highly consider presenting a bare list (not the full text) to your team of caregivers and encourage triaging as a task to do together. I could see this as team-building and solving some of those rough spots you mention. As a bonus it might also help you get these worries from re-circulating in your brain, as it will be part of a team effort and a more neutral tone.
posted by dawg-proud at 8:42 AM on January 28, 2015

For bringing them up with your team, consider tracking trends, such as "we got six comments about minor safety issues and one comment about nap time." If you track trends over time, you can ask the team to start tracking the most pressing issues and you don't have to share the specifics.
posted by CMcG at 1:00 PM on January 28, 2015

I do ecomm and most complaints/problems are in writing like this.

I've never had a kid in day care but I'd assume that if they were REALLY angry/scared about their kid's treatment they'd be calling or blowing up a daycare worker on the spot?

Nthing that people enjoy writing nastygrams, and that tone is difficult, nay, impossible to tell in it.The process of writing the complaint is probably more important to them than the response, in a way. I mean, you've got to take care of it, but they probably aren't micro-analyzing tone like you might think.

Don't take it personally, and don't let your pride get in the way of doing whatever it (reasonably) takes to placate them. If your complaints are 1% of your business and you give 100% of your complaints a free day of daycare, a gift, or some other token of apology or placation, then your cost of doing this is probably about 1% of your operating costs. Pay it and smile. Obviously, it's up to your managers what you actually do for angry customers, but I'm just saying that as a philosophy.

In time you will develop a repertoire of semi-canned responses and learn to personalize them and do whatever is needed. You will also develop , hopefully, a better sense of what internal change might actually be needed. In my case, for example, x% complain about shipping times, and sometimes orders get lost or are defective, and there isn't much I can do to change that, but if orders are ever incorrect then correction is needed, fast.
posted by randomkeystrike at 2:30 PM on January 28, 2015

It may seem counter-intuitive, or scary, or just awful for some people (especially if maybe you're younger and didn't grow up relying on the phone as much as us oldies did), but I deal with my nastiest nastygrams with a return phone call. Learned that the hard way when occasionally my email responses inadvertently escalated the situation because, as you've seen, tone can be misinterpreted both ways. I've been pleasantly surprised at how quickly a situation can be diffused with actual conversation. Added bonus is, you knock it out and don't have the anxiety of wondering if they will respond to your response.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 5:20 PM on January 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

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