{OR: Do you have a complaints procedure?}

Disagreements are a fact of life. Most people will avoid conflict at all costs. In business, though, avoiding conflict is not an option.

Dealing with disagreements (complaints, disputes, conflict) badly can result in unhappy customers, poor reviews, low repeat sales and even self doubt and anxiety. Not only will your top-line suffer but so will the quality of your work and eventually the success of your business.

The good news is that if you deal with them well, complaints can be a blessing. They are a second chance to put things right. Dealt with correctly, you can build trust, strengthen your confidence and improve business processes. Also (and maybe this is just my Protestant upbringing) I feel great when I feel I have dealt with conflict with openness and integrity, even if the problem never gets resolved.

So how can one deal with conflict successfully?

I think it is important to realise that the complaint will need be to sorted out in two places – in the real world and in your mind.

In the real world

It is important to have a procedure in place so you can follow it without thinking. (This will help with the “In the mind” process as well.)

Write out a complaints procedure, including a template
I love a template! You will need to include client details, complaint information and relevant backup, among other things. Set up the template as soon as you open for business to avoid winging it when an actual complaint comes in and you are feeling flustered.

Acknowledge their complaint
Write back to them immediately telling them you will look into it and outline your expected response. Do not get angry. Do not address the actual complaint. You may risk saying something you regret.

As mentioned, people generally avoid conflicts, so for them to come to you with a complaint has taken a lot of courage on their behalf. Use this second chance effectively.

Let your insurance company know
As soon as you have received a complaint, let your public indemnity insurance provider know. This is part of the insurance contract and is vital to ensuring you are covered should the complaint escalate into a claim.

Check facts and requests for action
What exactly are they annoyed about? Is it something within your control? Was it covered in the contract? Do you have any other information surrounding the claim such as emails, meeting minutes. Also, what exactly do they want? A refund, compensation or even just an apology?

Get back to them!
Do not neglect to come back to them when you said you would. Although it is hard to prioritise it is important to do so to avoid the problem festering or escalating. Also, getting back to the client quickly will build trust and will put the client at ease.

In your mind

This is the harder part to deal with. Complaints can feel like personal attacks. “Maybe I am no good at what I do?” “Oh my goodness, I am a fraud afterall” are some common thoughts that cross our mind. So how can we move on and not let a complaint derail us?

Remember it is not about you
It might be a part of you, but it isn’t all you are. Who knows it might not be you at all. It is impossible to know everything in someone else’s mind, so do not torture yourself with trying to guess and change their mind. Which brings us to…

Focus on what you can control and fix them
You may not be able to change what has happened but can you put systems in place so it does not happen again in the future?

Do not take it out on the client
I recommend waiting 24 hours before sending a full response to the complaint. In that time, you can draft an email, and it can be as angry as you want…. to begin with. My husband writes these emails with no “send to” address so he will not accidentally send it. It can diffuse your emotions in the short term. Remember DO NOT SEND IT or you will risk feeling terrible in the longer term and it can erode any goodwill or trust that was remaining between you and the complainant and will definitely lead to poor reviews of your work.

A final point to remember. When I make a mistake my daughter always reminds of what her teachers tell her: “If you aren’t making mistakes, you aren’t truly learning.”

Hopefully you will feel better equipped with dealing with difficult business situations. I’d love to hear any tips you have for dealing with conflict – either in your mind or in real life.