Charles Howden

The LEARN Model for dealing with customer complaints

Customer complaints are not aimed at you (even if they may sound as if they are). They are usually a result of the customer experiencing something they were not expecting.

Generally, the difficulty can be due to the failure of one small part of a much larger service or product.

Remember – however you may feel, it’s never personal! Customers do not know you well enough for that.

Generally, unhappy customers just want to be heard.

Using the simple five step LEARN model ensures that they are.

Listen carefully to your customer. Don’t interrupt or tell the customer to calm down, just let them get it off their chest.

Empathise – Try to get an understanding of what this difficulty has caused for your customer, repeat back, word for word, the last part of their sentence. Create empathy with “it sounds like…”

Apologise to the customer, even if you feel that you have no part in the problem. “I’m sorry that you have experienced xyz…”. Do not attribute any responsibility to the customer.

React – Decide what you will do to resolve the problem, and tell this to the customer.

Now! – Do not delay. Take immediate action! The longer you wait, the harder it is to produce outstanding customer service.

Believe it or not… Customer behaviour studies have demonstrated that customers become even more loyal if they experience a problem which is sorted out for them quickly, than if the problem had never occurred in the first place.

Exercise – Ring Ring,

“Worldwide Travel Insurance Co. _______ speaking. How can I help you?

Customer: I’m very unhappy, you promised to send me my travel insurance documents, I’ve been waiting and waiting and they still haven’t arrived. I’m going on holiday tomorrow and haven’t got any paperwork yet.

Call Handler: (Listen) Hmm, (Empathise) it sounds like you need your paperwork to go on holiday with.

Customer: Of course I do. I don’t know where it’s got to; I’ve been waiting for ages.

Call Handler: You’ve been waiting ages… (Apologise) Firstly, let me apologise for that. We expect all our customers to have their policies within three days of arranging cover, I’m sorry you have been waiting for yours… (React) How would it be if I faxed you your paperwork, do you have a fax machine?

Customer: No I don’t.

Call Handler: If I gave you your policy number and international claims helpline number right now, you would have everything you need to make a claim if you needed to. Would that help you?

Customer: Well I suppose I’d have less paperwork to take with me. Is that all I need?

Call Handler: Yes! That’s all you need. If you do have to make a claim, you just call the helpline and quote your policy number and our claims team will help you immediately. (Now) If you have a pen and paper handy, I can get those details for you now.

Customer: OK, I think that gives me what I need. Thank you.


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