Customer Complaints Frustration

How not to handle customer complaints!

Which?, the independent review service, released its annual rankings of high street shops in May this year. WHSmith was again placed at the very bottom of the list, with only 50% of customers reporting that they were happy with their service. This places them just below retailers such as Homebase and Sports Direct, the latter of which was said to have a “very oppressive atmosphere”.

What Makes A Great Customer Experience?

At the top of the Which? review tables were a raft of specialist shops. Richer Sounds was voted #1, with companies such as Lakeland and Toolstation following closely behind. The only general-purpose retailer to make it into the top 10 was John Lewis, which was praised for having “nicely laid out stores with helpful staff”.

This points out one of the problems that generalist retailers face – it can be tough to make an impression on customers when they’re just popping in to buy a few stamps. However, as John Lewis demonstrated, it certainly isn’t impossible.

How Did WHSmith Respond?

Being voted the worst retailer on the high street for the second year in a row is about the worst publicity you can get. WHSmith responded to the Which? survey with an understandably frustrated-sounding press release:

“This survey accounts for the views of only 586 Which? subscribers and is neither statistically relevant nor meaningful relative to our loyal customer base.

“Every week we serve 3 million customers in our 600 UK high street stores and have maintained our presence on the high street where many other retailers are closing stores. We work hard to improve customer experiences and continue to invest in new and existing stores.”

However, as anyone who handles consumer complaints regularly will know, the first rule is not to hit back at criticism. Attacking the survey’s methodology and claiming that it’s not “statistically relevant” sounds defensive, and makes it seem as if the company is unwilling to hear criticism.

Handling Consumer Complaints Effectively

They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity. WHSmith was briefly in the spotlight, and had a chance to turn this feedback into a positive. Instead of rejecting the criticism, WHSmith should have shown how seriously they took this result, what their plans were to change, and invited customers into their stores to see for themselves. Bear this in mind the next time you’re dealing with a consumer complaint. Take it onboard, and do what you can to learn from it; you could even turn it into a positive.