Customer service trumps marketing when it comes to brand building. Your brand’s reputation is on the line when unhappy customers contact you. In their minds, the way your customer service people treat them will be the real test of the brand’s promise.

We’ve heard that less than 10% of unsatisfied customers take the time to complain. The other 90% who do not just stop buying your brand or service, also feel obligated to bad mouth your brand because they believe they were betrayed. As much as they may like to tell you what’s wrong, it’s just too much trouble. But rest assured that 100% of the customers who do take the time to complain are the talkers, and they will tell all their friends if your customer service rep mistreats them.

How can we make every complaining customer happy and turn him or her into an apostle for our brands and services? What can we tell our Customer Service people to keep them from mistreating complainers and making brand-killing mistakes? Our customers don’t judge us when we are doing well, as much as when we have messed up. This gives us a second chance to make a good impression.

Here in Part 1, are 3 of the 7 ways to train your Customer Service staff:

1. The value of the “Complainer.” Every person who takes the time to complain is a valuable resource for your company and a chance to effectively build your brand. They have already demonstrated loyalty by contacting you – when most disgruntled customers just go to your competition. If they leave happy they will testify on behalf of your brand that you lived up to your promise of customer satisfaction. They are special and powerful, so treat them with the respect they deserve.

2. Who is the “Problem?” When they reach out for you, in their minds your company is the problem, not them. Don’t come off as if you want to help them with their problem. The first 5-10 seconds of the conversation sets the tone. Show compassion and thank them for taking the time to make you aware of areas where your company can improve. Tell them you are there to improve their customer experience. Don’t say, “Well, this is the first time I ever heard that,” because that does nothing to relieve your customers’ concerns and it makes them sound like they are the problem.

3. Don’t “get rid” of them. If they don’t ask the right questions right off, don’t dismiss them; or if they are calling in, don’t send them off into a phone maze. Have compassion for the fact that they may have been on hold for an extended time or had to go through several people to get to you. Think how frustrating it is for them to have to recount their information and the issue with your product or service multiple times. This is enough to make a saint irritable. The people in your accounting department may think they are saving money with automated answering and sorting systems, but you pay for it in brand reputation and lost business.

Your Customer Service people are where the rubber meets the road. They may be the only ones working in your office who speak directly to your end-users. Put extra time into training, and invest in improvements that reduce customer anxiety and increase your brand’s reputation with your customers. Make your customers’ experience as pleasant as possible by making real, compassionate and helpful people available to them.

In Part 2, we will explore language, guarantees, questions, and reporting as additional ways to mine to gold from your customer complaints.