What is the ideal time frame for responding to a customer complaint?

Our experience suggests that the number one thing that dis-satisfies customers is “how long you took to handle my problem.” This holds true across industries.

However, an ideal response timeframe does not necessarily equate to elapsed time. It is the customer’s perception of you and the process you are putting them through during that elapsed time that becomes the measure of what is “ideal.”

What steps should be taken right away, and then how long should it take to solve the problem?

Three tiers of steps are important to manage customer perception.

TIER 1: Set expectations proactively before an issue arises. Given that the customer’s perception of you and the process you’re putting them through drives what is an “ideal timeframe” in their mind, the first step is to proactively establish realistic expectations with the customer about response time and processes.

TIER 2: Communicate respectfully during the issue handling process. Two key things we emphasize in our Service Excellence programs:

  • Assure that you’ve listened, care and want to help.
  • If the issue cannot be resolved immediately, be clear about the next steps.

TIER 3: Manage those next steps well through effective processes & technology. Details will vary, of course, according to multiple factors: whether the interaction is B-2-B or B-2-C; the industry; SLA (service level agreements); the communication channel (face-to-face, email, phone, social media, etc.); escalation necessities; and so on. In any case, best practices include:

  • Tracking customer expectations and customer data accurately;
  • Intelligent routing to the right service provider(s) in your organization;
  • Monitoring and flagging capabilities within the process;
  • Customer access to helpful information (e.g., from your Web site);
  • Service providers who know what to do when things go wrong or when exceptions need to be addressed—not just for the “happy path.”

Why are these issues important in the business world?

Ideal timeframes for handling customer issues is not usually about reality; it’s about the customer’s perception of you and the processes you put them through. Even when you cannot “satisfy” a customer (i.e., they’re not getting exactly what they want or within the timeframe they wanted it), you can usually say and do things to maintain their “loyalty” (i.e., they stay with you and even speak well of you to others). And, isn’t this the real goal? That leads to a better brand reputation and bottom line.