To help you in customer service and complaint handling, we have developed some tools designed for shops and services.

These can be adapted for your business and are designed to help business owners, staff and customers understand their rights and responsibilities.

Customer complaint policies

Customers want their complaints to be easy to report, acknowledged, and dealt with quickly, fairly and sensitively.

A written complaint handling policy is a good way to ensure that complaints are taken seriously, and dealt with appropriately and consistently. It also helps to support your staff, so be sure they understand your policy.

Here are some tips for developing a customer complaint policy.

  • Make it easy for all customers to complain.
  • Decide which staff have the authority to resolve a complaint, and make sure they know what to do. The more a complaint is escalated to someone higher in the business, the more dissatisfied the customer may become.
  • Set a time frame to respond to a complaint. Taking too long makes the problem worse.
  • Give one person responsibility for managing the complaint from beginning to end, so the customer does not have to repeat their complaint to different staff.
  • Involve your staff in creating your policy.
  • Ensure staff know your policy and how to treat complaints fairly. Poor complaint handling, for example blaming the customer for the problem, or marginalising them by saying no one else has complained, will only worsen the problem.
  • Review your policy regularly, and make changes as necessary.

Every complaint is different but the steps for dealing with them should be the same. A complaint handling procedure makes sure complaints are dealt with the same way every time.

Here is a sample procedure for handling customer complaints consistently.

  1. Listen to the complaint. Accept ownership of the problem. Apologise. Don't blame others. Thank the customer for bringing the problem to your attention.
  2. Be understanding. Remember, the person is complaining about your business, not about you personally. Be calm, cheerful and helpful. Where possible, let the customer know that you will take responsibility for resolving the problem.
  3. Record the complaint. Detail the complaint so that you and other staff know exactly what the problem is. Have one place to record complaints and the actions taken to resolve them. This lets you see any patterns emerge over time. Complaints about a particular process or product might indicate that changes need to be made. Staff can also see what was done to resolve complaints in the past.
  4. Make sure you have all the facts. Check that you understand the details while the person is making the complaint, and ask questions if necessary. This will also let them know that you are taking their complaint seriously.
  5. Discuss options for fixing the problem. At the very least, a sincere apology costs nothing. But think about what this complaint could cost you in lost business or a complaint to the Equal Opportunity Commission. Maybe you can provide a free product or discount a future service.
  6. Keep your promises. Don't promise things that you can't deliver. In handling complaints it is better to under-promise and over-deliver.
  7. Be quick. If complaints take several days to resolve or are forgotten, they can escalate.
  8. Follow up. Record the customer's contact details and follow up to see if they were happy with how their complaint was handled. Let them know what you are doing to avoid the problem in the future.
  9. Reward your staff. Encourage and reward your staff for dealing with unhappy customers and handling their complaints well.

You can display this checklist to remind customers and staff of your commitment to handling complaints fairly.

Adapt the checklist to suit your business.

  1. All businesses get complaints - it's the way you handle them that makes you stand out.
  2. Listen, say sorry and thank the customer for letting you know.
  3. Record details in a complaints book or file – read it back to the customer to be sure you've understood.
  4. If you can't fix the problem now, let the customer know it will be followed up promptly.
  5. Pass the details of the complaint to the person who can deal with it.
  6. Contact the customer and think about offering an apology, a discount, voucher or free product.
  7. Move quickly - aim to fix the problem within 48 hours.
  8. Check that the customer is satisfied and record the outcome.

Customer service charter

A customer service charter clearly displayed in your shop or business helps staff and customers know what is expected and that you are committed to quality service.

Consult with your staff to develop your customer service charter and review it on a regular basis.

Here is a sample charter of service that you can adapt to suit your business.

Good service EQUALS good business

So we will:

- Serve you respectfully and efficiently.

- Welcome you warmly and thank you sincerely.

- Be knowledgeable about our products and services.

- Welcome your comments and deal with any problems quickly.

You can help us by:

- Giving us all the information we need to help you.

- Letting us know if you have any special needs.

- Telling us how we can improve our services.

- Asking us to explain anything you are not sure of.