Chocolate Pillow | Dealing with complaints: The Empathetic Complainer
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Dealing with complaints: The Empathetic Complainer

04 Dec Dealing with complaints: The Empathetic Complainer

I have previously spoken about Silent, Professional, Social and Aggressive complainers, all types of complainer that can intertwine with each other to create a very ‘difficult’ situation.  Now I want to talk about the type of complainer who most assume to be the easiest to deal with, but has hidden dangers – the Empathetic Complainer.

For those who don’t know, being empathetic is about putting yourself in the other persons situation – seeing and feeling a different perspective to your own.  As a complaint handler, you must have a basic level of empathy with guests as without this, handling the situation can be very difficult.  As someone complaining, it is often hard to empathise with the representative of a company that has annoyed you, however you would be surprised how often an Empathetic Complainer will ‘pop up’ and surprise you.

The main indicator you are dealing with an Empathetic Complainer is their behaviour and the words they use – they will agree with your point of view and for all appearances be very accepting of what you say and why things happened.  They are the type of person who will approach a complaint by saying ‘I don’t want to get anyone in trouble…’ or ‘I know that you are short-staffed…’ or similar phrases.  Many people will think that this is the type of guest who will accept an apology and leave, without saying anything more.  But you would be wrong.

Empathetic Complainers, in the same way as all other complainers, want a reaction and resolution.  Whilst everything may seem fine on the surface, they are more inclined to walk away and then complain further or to become a Professional Complainer or Social Complainer.  They can also become, very unnervingly, a Silent Complainer!

It is important to understand the value of Empathetic Complainers as they are often the most open and honest type of complainer, whilst being the most rational about things – they will understand why things have happened and will often help you to work out how to put things right; for this reason they should be nurtured and taken care of – they are your most valuable asset throughout their stay because they will not be shy to let you know things are wrong, but will be considerate when doing so.

It is important to make an offer of resolution to an Empathetic Complainer – usually you can just directly ask them what you can do to resolve the situation for them; and they in turn will be honest in response.  Do not fall in to the trap of thinking that you can get away with a token gesture or smaller offer than you would make to someone else, because this can lead to them transforming in to a different complainer type.  It is also important to ensure that your offer actually provides a resolution to the issue – if the TV isn’t working, go and mend it or replace it; if the towels weren’t refreshed, get them some more ASAP.  It is important that whatever resolution you offer is immediate, and that YOU carry it out (or at least are present whilst it is resolved) – remember that empathy requires a personal connection and emotional investment – if the guest has invested that emotion in you, then they deserve to have the time taken to invest emotional care in response.  Walking away and getting someone else to deal with it is likely to cause more annoyance!

Empathetic Complainers will understand you work hard, and in return you must demonstrate that you will do all in your power to make things right.  Empathetic Complainers can become brand ambassadors quite easily, and can become your best allies!  Remember that whilst they may forgive what has gone wrong, they will not necessarily forget it!

Next in the series I will talk about:

  • Assertive Complainers – they will have what they want, and you cannot say otherwise… or can you?!
  • Compensatory Complainers – everything is perfect as long as they get a refund!
Matt Shiells-Jones

Husband, Author, Hotel Manager and ambitious 'old cat lady'

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