We can work it out

In a world now dominated by social media, you do not even need a website or social media profile to be the centre of a glowing online testimonial. Local Facebook groups are acting as the fastest growing medium for word-of-mouth recommendations, or condemnations, meaning once private conversations between friends, family or neighbours, now take place in a public online forum – one that can make or break your reputation in minutes. As a rule of thumb, you need five positive reviews to outweigh the negative impact of one bad review. Therefore, you really want to avoid leaving any customer feeling they have cause for complaint.

What’s more, all CIPHE members must abide by its voluntary Code of Professional Standards, and Point 5 sets out that members must ‘Uphold the dignity, standing and reputation of the Institute and the plumbing mechanical engineering services industry’. This means acting ‘professionally and adopt[ing] a form of behaviour and appearance that will not cause offence or embarrassment to others’.

Communication is key

Did you know the cause of the majority of complaints received by the CIPHE is down to poor communication? Being able to listen to a problem and turn around the situation is one of the most important customer care skills you can learn.

Back in the 1970’s, Dr Albert Mehrabian found that only 7% of communication is in the words we say, whilst 38% was in ‘non-verbal communication’ (the tone of voice) and 55% in body language. Faced with a complaint, your first instinct may be to go on the defensive, but it is absolutely the wrong thing to do. Stop, take a breath and think about what you are going to say and how you are going to say it. Be open with your body language, make good eye contact and be confident and calm in what you say.

Learn to listen to your customer’s full grievance too – do not look disengaged and jump to conclusions based on half the problem. Make sure you repeat any key facts back and if necessary, write down any important points. The customer then knows they are being listened to and taken seriously.

While the majority of jobs will go without a hitch, if you get even the slightest hint your client has a niggle, do not ignore your gut instinct, ask them. By taking responsibility for difficult situations through clear communication, you are upholding the CIPHE’s Code of Professional Standards. Everyone has to deal with complaints from time to time, but good communication will allow you to resolve minor issues before they become major ones.

Learn to say sorry

On the topic of complaints, it is important to learn when to say sorry. It is a very powerful word. Always remember it is the most effective and cheapest method of resolving a complaint.

A 2016 study by Lewicki, Polin and Lount Jr found that the most compelling apologies included:

• Expression of regret
• Explanation of what went wrong
• Acknowledgement of responsibility
• Declaration of repentance
• Offer of repair
• Request for forgiveness

They found the best apologies (for the worst of actions) used all six aspects above, while minor indiscretions may only require a couple of aspects. The most important part of all apologies was the acknowledgement of responsibility.

So, if faced with a complaint, take responsibility for it. Apologise if the fault is with you, or on behalf of any third party, explaining why things have gone wrong. Most importantly, take ownership of putting things right.

Be positive

People like positivity. A positive mind is focused, flexible, productive and confident. It seeks to find the best outcome, whatever the situation. When breaking bad news to clients, having a positive attitude and using positive language can make all the difference. Focus on solutions to problems, rather than dwell on the negatives at hand.


“You should have had those pipes lagged and turned off the water quicker. That leak has caused a massive amount of damage, which will cost thousands to put right.”

Turns into:

“The water is off, so there will be no further damage. Let us replace the pipework here and make sure everything else is adequately lagged so this does not happen again. Have you spoken to your home insurance to see if you are covered for the damage? If you are not, don’t panic, I can help you work out what you need to do next.”

Even though you are dealing with the same situation, focusing on a positive outcome will deliver far better customer care.

Find out more

For further information on the CIPHE’s Code of Professional Standards, visit


This article first appeared in the May/Jun 2020 issue of P&H Engineering, the magazine for members of the CIPHE. Find out how to join here.

You might also like

The real value of professionalism

The real value of professionalism

Keep well, keep working

Keep well, keep working

Free legal advice for CIPHE members

Free legal advice for CIPHE members