Over the years of writing about the debt relief space I’ve grown exceedingly frustrated by companies that can’t seem to deal with consumer complaints or unhappy clients in a positive and constructive way. They seem to relish in shooting themselves in the foot, time and time again.
A client complaint is a perfect opportunity to win over new clients if you handle it right.
The GetOutOfDebt.org site sometimes gets posts where people complain about debt relief companies. The site is almost the perfect place to observe examples about how some debt relief companies deal with an unhappy consumer in a poor and horrible way.
Your clients don’t first come to GetOutOfDebt.org and complain typically.
Unhappy clients complain here when they think their debt relief company will not listen to them or will not remedy the problem at hand.
If they feel they need to complain elsewhere because you won’t listen or act, you’ve done something horribly wrong.
Generally the first stop on the unhappy customer train is going to be with an employee at your debt relief company. They will have expressed an issue or dissatisfaction with an employee in an email or phone call. It’s really how your employee handles that issue that can make or break the volume or severity of complaints you get online.
Clients that have an issue are actually perfect potential ambassadors and opportunities for you to help that person and turn them into raving fans who run around bragging about your service and company. These once unhappy customers became tremendously valuable free advertising for you and their personal referrals are more likely to use your services than just someone off the street.
It’s never a question if a debt relief company is going to have a disgruntled client some time. They will. Even the best company will. But that’s not really the issue. The critical part of this equation is how the company handles the inevitable unhappy consumer. That’s when you can really tell the integrity of a good company.
Let me tell you a story.
I was once having a very expensive deck built on an old house. The guy that was installing it really screwed something big up. I was raging angry.
I called the contractor in charge of the job and said I wanted to see him at the house the following morning and we were going to deal with the problem. I’m sure he heard the stress and anger in my voice.
The next morning he showed up five minutes ahead of the appointed time and as he walked around the corner of the house he stuck out his hand and said, “Steve I take full responsibility for any issue you are having and I won’t stop till we fix it and you are happy with our work.”
With that one sentence he entirely deflated the problem, let me know he was going to take care of it and there was no need for a confrontation at all. And he did exactly what he said he was going to do.
The matter never escalated beyond that point, it got promptly fixed, I never needed to complain to a regulator or the licensing board, and I wound up referring three more people to him because I was so impressed with the way he handled the problem.
Time after time I watch debt relief companies here on this site use the exact wrong approach in dealing with an unhappy consumer. Rather than making the situation better or improving the public perception of their company they appear to intentionally do the things that most hurt them in the long run and make the situation worse.
If you’ve ever been in an Apple Store and received customer service you know you will almost never have a representative tell you to get lost and they can’t help you. You can walk into any Apple Store in the world and feel confident, most every time, you are going to get exceptional service and you are going to walk out with your issue resolved. And Apple products are typically more expensive but it’s the exceptional customer service that helps to keep people coming back and paying a premium.
Here is a personal example. One time I flew to the U.S. from Europe, where I bought my Apple laptop. I din’t have a U.S. power cord and had lost my outlet adapter. I walked into the Apple Store in San Francisco and explained my problem and said I wanted to but a new power cord. The representative ran into the back and returned a moment later with a U.S. power cord and said, “We want you to have have this as our gift. Thanks for being an Apple customer.”
There is a huge difference in walking into an Apple store with a keyboard problem and having an employee say, “No problem, we will just go ahead and replace that at no charge to you while you wait.” Or, walking into some other place that sold you some other laptop and having them say, “Sorry, there’s nothing we can do. You’ll have to call the manufacturer.” We all know how that ends most of the time, don’t we. But it begins with, “Press 1 for…”
I once had this HR Manager, Kevin. One day Kevin and I were dealing with an employee problem and I was stressing over if we were going to have to let the person go. Kevin told me something that day I hope I never forget. He said, “Steve, we don’t fire people, they fire themselves.” And he was right. It was the negative actions of an employee that wound up in a situation where a separation might occur.
The same premise is true in having a good reputation for your company.
Do you want to be known as the place people can go for exceptional help or do you want people to run around complaining that you don’t return their calls, refuse to refund their money, and tell them there isn’t anything you can do to help them when things don’t work out?
So let’s first look at what not to do when you get an unhappy client or one that complains online.
The issue here isn’t the person complaining, it’s the perception that you are under delivering what you promised.
So let’s run through how to best handle a consumer complaint to turn it into a positive event instead of something to be dreaded.
Let’s assume, for the sake of this example, that you have a client that has complained about your service by posting a nasty comment or a report about your company online. But the steps I’m about to give you apply to an unhappy consumer that might just call your company directly.
If you say you’ll email them the following day at 2 pm and you don’t, all that happens is you reinforce their doubt that you’ll really fix the problem.
It might not be a fair reality but it is the way debt relief problems are perceived by the Attorney General, BBB, Ripooffreport.com, etc.
It’s much better for you to make a refund and make the consumer happy. In fact, bend over backwards and give more than you have to and repair the relationship. You might part ways with the consumer but you want that to be a parting where the consumer feels satisfied.
If you get a regulator letter and they want to know how you plan to fix the problem, just tell them your top priority is to make the consumer happy. If that means refunding money to the consumer then do that. A full and prompt refund terminates most complaints in their tracks. Besides, any regulator will be impressed with that response and a refund and you will wind up with a more favorable impression of you and your company.
If you insist in standing your ground and not making the consumer happy then you only invite needless scrutiny, attention, and potentially administrative or legal action against you and your company. And for what, the fact you said no refunds in your contract?
I’ve covered so many lawsuits against debt relief companies that began with a simple refund request and needlessly escalated to a lawsuit.
Which response would you rather have current and potential customers of yours read to form an impression about your company?
- “This person is stupid. They knew what they signed up for and the contract said no refunds. We even gave them three days to change his mind. Besides, this complaint isn’t even probably real. Don’t you check these things out first. I bet this was posted by a disgruntled ex-employee that we had to fire. And whoever let this be posted, we are going to sue you and you are a jerk.”
- “Hi, this is Jim Smith from Super Debt Help. I’m sorry to hear you feel there was an issue with the service you’ve received from our company. We pride ourselves in doing an exceptional job for our clients and your satisfaction with our services is very important to me and our company.
I want to help you resolve this unfortunate situation for you in a positive way. Please contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me directly at 202-555-1212.”
Which answer do you really want online for your company legacy?
I totally understand that you may feel you’ve invested some cost in the debt relief service the customer signed up for and maybe you’ve even partially delivered the service. You may have even collected advanced fees for a future service the consumer has contracted for and you want to keep them.
But I can tell you with extreme certainty that by not giving the unhappy debt relief client a refund and turning this into a positive customer service moment to brag about, it will cost you many times over with complaints from others and a negative perception of your company that will foster more complaints. It’s just not worth it in the long run.
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