Complaint Handling and Online Reputation Defence for Contractors, Part 1

September 28, 2016

Nick Gromicko

Eventually, every contractor will receive a complaint from a client, but it’s not necessarily bad news. A complaint provides an opportunity to learn what your client really thinks about your service, which gives you the chance to consider making changes to how you do things in your company. Complaints are actually more valuable than compliments, in some ways. Welcome them. Clients who go to the trouble of complaining are usually interested in giving you the chance to make things right and make them happy.

The number one rule for receiving a complaint from a former client is to listen. Remain calm and composed. A person calling with a complaint may be insulting and rude, but you must be professional throughout.

Assure the client that you will do what you can to help him or her. Have a pen and paper handy. Write down any notes that are critical to the conversation, such as dates, what happened, who discovered the problem, whether it’s been corrected, etc.

Listen to what the client says. The first couple of sentences will tell you exactly what problem(s) the client is experiencing. Pay close attention to what is being said without interrupting. If the caller is upset, rambling, and not able to verbalize well, then assist them by asking questions, such as, “What happened after that?” or “Could you tell me more about that?” or “What happened next?” Finally, be sure to ask, “How can I help you?” or “What is it that you would like us to do?”

Before proceeding to a resolution, make sure that you understand the situation. Ask questions to see if there’s been a simple misunderstanding that can be easily resolved. If the complaint is more than just a misunderstanding, ask specific questions so that you can understand the exact nature of the complaint and the problem your client is experiencing. Summarize what you understand the problem to be. The caller will acknowledge or correct you. Try, “So, what you’re saying is…” or “Do I understand you correctly or did I miss the point?” Be patient and repeat this process until you understand exactly what the problem is.

Another important thing to do while fielding a complaint is to express empathy with the caller. Don’t be patronizing, but do let the caller know that you understand their stress and unhappiness. Tell them again that you will help them.

If there is a solution, make sure that the client has no doubt as to the specifics about how the issue will be resolved. Ask the client to confirm that they agree with the proposed solution to their situation. Ask, “How do you feel about the solution I’ve suggested,” or “How does that sound to you?,” or “Are you in agreement with that so far?”

If a staffer is fielding the complaint but the caller wants to speak to the owner of the company, s/he should try the following: “Mrs. Smith, please give me the opportunity to resolve this matter for you. I’m sure I’ll be able to help. But if you’re still not satisfied, I’ll get the owner on the phone with you.”
If the caller uses profanity, you might say, “I know you’re upset, but there’s no reason to use profanity. Please continue to discuss your complaint without using those words.”

As a last resort, you may want to suggest that the caller call you back after he or she has had a chance to calm down, but never hang up on a caller, and don’t be patronizing. Always use empathy, and keep them on the phone with you to resolve the situation whenever possible.

You may have to schedule a face-to-face meeting with the client to defuse the situation and bring a quick resolution. The goal is to work together, to prevent their filing a lawsuit, and to come up with a resolution that is mutually agreeable.

Another tactic is to ask the client to propose a solution. Letting the client make the opening gambit lets you know exactly where you stand. Perhaps the client’s solution is less costly than what you were going to propose.

TIP: If your client doesn’t have a solution in mind, perhaps you can propose a discount on a future service. This way, you get an opportunity to continue to work for the client.

Remember: an unhappy, inarticulate customer is not to be dismissed out of hand just because dealing with their complaint may be unpleasant or take a while. It’s up to you to decide whether you want to learn from the experience and improve your business, or wonder whether you’ve created ill will that will haunt your ability to secure future jobs.

Here are some statistics that can help make you a believer in practicing good customer service by obtaining feedback and resolving complaints:

  • For every complaint you hear, there are 26 additional clients with unresolved problems, and 6 of these are serious. You will never hear from these 26 again, and they are the ones who could tell you how to make your business better.
  • Up to 70% of clients who complain will do business with your company again if you resolve their problem. If they feel you acted quickly and to their satisfaction, up to 96% of them will do business with you again, and they will probably refer other people to you.
  • A dissatisfied client will tell 9 to 15 people about their experience. And about 10% of your dissatisfied clients will tell more than 20 people about their problem. You cannot possibly afford the advertising costs it would take to overcome this negative word-of-mouth publicity. And if it goes online, it’s there forever.
  • It costs 5 to 6 times as much to get a new (first-time) client as it does to keep a current one.

Do you know why most clients stop using your services?

  • 1% simply die
  • 3% move out of your service area
  • 14% are dissatisfied with your services
  • 9% leave because of your competition; and, most importantly…
  • 68% stop using your services because of an attitude of indifference by your company’s staff. For most people, it was YOUR attitude that mattered most.

Make sure that your company is doing the right thing when it comes to satisfying clients.

The apology letter

Never ruin an apology with an excuse — Benjamin Franklin

Sometimes, you simply have to fall on your sword. Don’t quibble or qualify. If you were in the wrong, say so. You’re already liable, so, contrary to popular belief, not admitting you screwed up doesn’t make you less responsible—it makes you appear cowardly and lacking in integrity. So, do the right thing and apologize. In doing so, you may just avoid a lawsuit, but you will surely have done all you could and you will have upheld your own Code of Ethics. A reasonable client will see that and thank you for it, and it will likely lead to positive word-of-mouth, repeat business, and referrals.

Consider the following phrases in drafting your apology:

  • “We apologize for…”
  • “I was troubled to discover…”
  • “Please accept our apology for…”
  • “Please forgive me for…”
  • “We acknowledge that we…”
  • “I terribly regret…”
  • “Can you suggest how we may resolve this?”
  • “To ensure that something like this never happens again, we will…”
  • “We are taking immediate steps to…”
  • “Next time, I will…”
  • “To make up for our error, we…”
  • “We will not charge you for…”
  • “We will credit you for…”
  • “What I can offer you is…”
  • “We are immediately shipping you…”

TIP #1: Create a complaint-taking template for your company to use so that when your staff or you answer the phone, you won’t be thrown off track and miss essential details that you need to resolve the complaint, especially if the caller is upset or rambling, or you’re having a hectic day.

TIP #2: Convene a meeting to use complaints as a learning tool for the entire company, including subcontractors and office staff.

In Part 2, appearing in the next issue of EIN, steps to take after the complaint is resolved, including obtaining a general release and converting the complaint into a testimonial.

This article was first published by the International Association of Professional Contractors, LLC,

Nick Gromicko is president of the International Association of Professional Contractors, the world’s largest construction trade association, based in Cheyenne, Wyoming. His duties include managing the association’s mega-database of more than 6 million contractors.

In 1992, Gromicko founded InterNACHI, a trade association for the residential and commercial property inspection industry. InterNACHI has operations in 65 countries. Its monster website is over 235,000 pages long, and its online and video training courses have been awarded more than 1,200 government approvals and accreditations. Gromicko is author of the International Standards of Practice for Inspecting Commercial Properties, which is published in nine languages and has been adopted for use in a dozen countries.

Gromicko is also author of more than 40 books and hundreds of articles for inspectors and contractors, including the best-selling Conquer series of marketing and business success books for contractors. He is a featured speaker on the subject of sales lead generation at construction-related conventions around the world.


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