Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Is the client always right?

It was once said that as a nation we are very reserved in our ways and are reluctant to complain when something goes wrong. This may be down to a sense of reasonableness, a desire to give people the benefit of doubt and to realise that in life mistakes do from time to time occur.

I have in recent times however noticed a major shift in attitude, people in general I find are less tolerant when it comes to mistakes and are less likely to be forgiving when things do not go their way.  This may be to do with the lack of money; the scramble to make savings and even the hope that by complaining a financial gain may follow.

Working in the service industry I work hard putting into place procedures and training sessions for staff to ensure that customer relations is given the priority it deserves.  I work tirelessly to do all I can to ensure mistakes do not happen but as with most aspects of life it is inevitable that there will be times when oversights or mistakes are made.  

I always like to think that if you admit the mistake as soon as it happens and do not fall into the trap of trying to defend the indefensible that the client will understand and a swift resolution should then follow.  

In the majority of cases this is often the outcome, though speaking to others it seems there is of late an increasing trend for complainants to seize the opportunity to make life difficult for the person or company responsible for the mistake.  More often than not this particular stance in money motivated  - the hope is that by taking the offensive it will result in a financial reward.

The difficulty this causes is that however hard one works to find a satisfactory resolution if the agenda of the complainant is different the chances of preserving a congenial relationship with the client/customer is almost bound to be lost.  You find yourself in a ‘no win’ situation and one that leaves even the most conscientious practitioner feeling extremely deflated. 

Much emphasis is given to the use of complaints procedures and of the need to follow these at all times.    There is no doubt that a process of this type is essential but I do question the effectiveness of such procedures in dealing with the hard nosed complainant who is determined to get his or her ounce of flesh irrespective of the merits or otherwise of the complaint.

The problem service providers face is that with increased access to consumer redress schemes, and the fear of adverse publicity on Google and other sites where the client/customer can rate the supplier, the complainant will always have the upper hand.    How many of us would risk finding ourselves on the end of a negative rating and one that could be set in stone even where there is no justification. 

So what can one do to avoid this?  Well in short very little as even with the best will in the world one can not avoid the serial complainer or the complainant who complains for no reason other than to seek a reduction in your fee or some other financial gain.  All one can do is to operate a robust complaints procedure and to be firm and fair in its application. 

Undertaking high volume of work particularly as low cost increases the risk of complaint not only statistically but in terms of clients/customers seem to expect more for their money and are more likely to complain if the service does not live up to their expectation.

The upshot of all of this is that complaints are an occupational hazard and one that in addition to operating a complaints procedure we should make provision for both financially and in the setting aside of management time.


Morgan Jones and Pett are solicitors who provide legal advice and services to clients based in England and Wales and who can be contacted on 01603877000 or via email at davidpett@m-j-p.co.uk

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