How to Deal with Member Complaints

How to Deal with Member Complaints

Members are the lifeblood of associations, but when a member acts against the code of conduct, how do you respond appropriately? Do you know the art of member discipline?

Most associations have processes in place to ensure these occurrences are handled in a gracious and careful manner. These processes also ensure that, when the time comes (and it is bound to come at some point), you will be ready.  

How can you promote a positive culture within your association while dealing with a member complaint? Here are 7 points to consider before responding. 

Remain Calm, Collected and Kind

Perhaps you have a disgruntled member who would like nothing more than to bring you down because you responded to an email slower than expected. Or maybe, they are dissatisfied with their membership renewal fees and want to let you know about it. When conflict arises, it is important to leave your emotions at the door and address the member in a calming tone, without addressing anything that you may regret down the track. It is harder for them to remain aggressive when you are calm, collected and kind.  

Acknowledge Their Concern and Thank Them

“Kill them with kindness” is the mantra here—repeat that to yourself. A member has decided they do not want to suffer in silence anymore. When you have a member who comes to you with a complaint, the first thing to do is to thank them for their feedback. The complaining customer has actively taken time out of their day to make you aware of how they are feeling, when they could have easily just cancelled their membership and gone elsewhere. A thank you line can sound like this, “Thank you for taking the time to provide us feedback. We greatly appreciate and value what you have to say so that we can best improve our services.” 

Reiterate Their Concern Back to Them

After you have thanked them for their complaint, they might still be disgruntled because the situation is yet to be resolved. It is best practice to reiterate what they have said back to them as it proves: a) you have genuinely paid attention to their complaint, and b) you can effectively relay that information to your Board or disciplinary committee who can determine the appropriate action.  A reiteration might sound like this, “We want to ensure all our members are completely satisfied with our services. So that I can best help you, can I please clarify that you are feeling dissatisfied because…”

Offer Care, Support and Guidance

A complaint means that a person’s trust in you—the association—has been fractured. The path to regaining that sense of trust and loyalty means going the extra mile by offering them personalised care and support. No matter who is in the wrong, you can make it right by easing their dissatisfaction. 

If they believe your membership rate is too expensive, it can be as simple as asking them what would make that investment worth their while. Is it offering more innovative digital strategies such as webinars or networking events? It is then important to take that feedback onboard and see if there is anything the association can do to accommodate their request. 

Perhaps a member complained because you or your colleague sounded rude on the phone. This suggests that they appreciate speaking to someone who goes above and beyond the parameters of ‘sales’ chit-chat. In this instance, ask them how you can better service their requests, and follow up if you promise to provide additional information and resources to them. Whatever the complaint, there is always a path forward that promotes positivity for both parties. 

If In Doubt, Apologise

Sometimes, there is nothing you can do to rectify the situation. If you reach that point in the conflict, apologise for the inconvenience and assure them it will not happen again. An apology might not remedy their dissatisfaction, but it does show that you express empathy for them, you acknowledge that their feelings are validated, and you have the integrity to remain kind. 

Follow Up

Once the complaint has been addressed and you have contained their aggression with an apology, support and guidance, it can all be packaged in a neat follow up call or email. Even if you have not promised a follow up, do so anyway. This not only shows you have the initiative to check in to see how they are going, but it also acknowledges that they are top of your mind—and that is an effective step to regaining their trust.  

Document All Complaints 

Every association should have a process in place to record any complaints. However, before you do lodge any complaints, it is wise to have several documents in place to promote your association’s culture right off the bat.

For instance, a Constitution firmly outlines an association’s values, purpose and philosophy. A Code of Practice clearly outlines how operations are carried out as well as the appropriate behaviours and attitudes all members and employees should adopt, which also include the ramifications if these rules are broken. 

Having both a printed and digital version of these documents available for members to read and tick—so it is legally acknowledged that they have read and understood—will put your association in good stead for future complaints. Lastly, it is wise to document all complaints via an online portal system so that you can refer to previous engagements with them and note that follow-ups have been actioned. 

If you require more assistance, AES is here to help. Become a member today.

About the Author: Nick Koerbin (Executive Director, AES)

With over 30 years of management expertise, Executive Director and Founder of AES, Nick Koerbin is one of the most experienced NFP leaders in Australia. He has held positions as the CEO of Materials Australia, the National Parts Code, as well as senior positions in the Institute of Insurance, Australian Quality Council, the Financial Planning Association, the Australian Human Resources Institute, and the Furniture Industry Association of Australia. Nick created AES with a vision of creating a set of management practices that could be consistently followed to ensure success. Over his 30 years in the industry, he noticed that inconsistent management practices often impeded delivery of services to members, which in turn created issues with membership renewal. By establishing AES and creating the NFP Association Best Practice Self-Assessment, Nick has been able to assist leaders in becoming more confident and informed decision makers so that they can create more effective strategies and implementation plans.

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