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Roy Osing is a former executive vice-president of Telus, blogger, educator, coach, adviser and the author of the book series Be Different or Be Dead.

Is dealing with customer complaints really a leadership issue? Absolutely.

Every customer complaint is disguised as an opportunity to improve the strategic position of an organization, as long as it is dealt with the right way.

Leaders should treat complaint handling as a priority. Service recovery is a loyalty builder.

If an organization recovers from a complaint exceedingly well, customer loyalty is enhanced. It's counterintuitive, but if you recover well, the customer is more pleased than if you had never made the mistake in the first place.

Complaint recovery means fixing the mistake fast and surprising the customer with what they don't expect.

When you have committed a service error, the customer expects their complaint to be rectified, but it must be done quickly.

If immediate action is not taken, the benefits of recovery are lost, and the customer typically broadcasts far and wide how disastrous your service is.

But even if the error is dealt with expeditiously, loyalty remains unchanged; loyalty is deepened only if the second complaint recovery step is taken – surprising the customer.

That surprise is the magic dust that leaves the awestruck, bonding them to you more than they were before the incident. Fixing the mistake fast maintains their loyalty level; surprising them pushes it even higher.

Complaint recovery is all about attention to details.

Remember these five best practices next time you're facing a frustrated customer.

1. Apologize, regardless of whose fault it is. Trying to blame the customer for the event won't get you anywhere. Apologize for the impact the event had on the customer. "I'm sorry for the inconvenience this has caused you" is a way to move forward into the recovery process without having to admit culpability.

2. Never quote company policy. People don't care about your policies, and telling them that they should have behaved differently will only anger them even more.

3. Never have the issue referred to a supervisor as a means of control; empower your employees to solve the problem then and there. This gives your employees currency in the customer's eyes and enables fast resolution of the complaint.

4. Never use common "trash and trinket" items as the customer surprise. People hate them. Develop a list of more personal surprise tokens that employees can choose from depending on what they learn about the customer during the complaint experience.

5. Have a real person standing by any of your self-serve applications. Complaint recovery cannot be suitably handled through automated systems. When is the last time you enjoyed being served by technology – like an automated voice-messaging system – when you had a problem with an organization?

If leaders make recovery from negative customer experiences a priority, their organization wIll most definitely stand out from the crowd.

Executives, educators and human resources experts contribute to the ongoing Leadership Lab series.

‘Frankly I like to surround myself with introverts that help me but they modulate my behaviour.’

Special to Globe and Mail Update