How to handle customer complaints: 4 effective tips to convert disgruntled eLearning customers into happy clients

how to deal with eLearning customer complaintsELearning course design is a creative process. Unfortunately, one that’s sometimes fraught with misunderstandings and miscommunication. And when that happens, customers aren’t too pleased – as might be expected!

Here are 4 tips on how to deal with customer complaints, and how to turn a potentially bad situation around, and convert it into a long-lasting professional relationship. 


Dealing with customer complaints

Typically, before commencing work on eLearning content, course creators and instructional designers usually sit down with a client to analyze their needs and suggest a solution to the learning challenges being discussed. In some instances, circumstances are such that the designers simply do what the client is asking them to do.


Once the designers determine that the deliverables are completed, they submit them for client approval. Usually, if all goes well, the client will accept the content created. There are situations, however, when customers aren’t happy and they start complaining. The most common reasons for such complaints include:


  1. Customer wasn’t briefed on what to expect


The lion’s share of customer complaints arises when clients aren’t aware of what to expect from an eLearning engagement. Most often, the client will perceive one version of the final deliverable, while you (course creator/Instructional designer) might think they want something else.


Complaints usually are the result of both those expectations being worlds apart!



Here’s how you can ensure that the situation highlighted by the caricature above never befalls your eLearning project:


  • Never launch into course design without understanding learning objectives
  • Never start development without signing-off on course design


It might be a good idea to use high-level prototypes to ensure both you and your client are on the same page. You could do this by walking clients through previously developed content, or by putting together a strawman or wireframe of the design, based on client discussions, and presenting it to the client prior to detailed design.


Always preserve the original prototype. In the event of a complaint, use it to match the final design to agreed prototype functionality, and remind the customer of the agreed-to learning objectives demonstrated during the prototype review.

how to deal with eLearning customer complaints


  1. Customer can’t relate to the content


Even after you have agreed upon a course outline with the client, perhaps through several prototyping sessions, sometimes customers just can’t relate to or understand, how the final eLearning content produced addresses their learning needs.


For instance, when the instructional designer presents his/her design, the customer isn’t able to see how the design meets the requirements discussed.


Here’s how you could diffuse this type of situation:


  • Match each of the requirements agreed upon, with specific design features (videos, slides, quizzes, exercises) that you created
  • Map out each pain point highlighted during your engagement briefing, and stress how each design feature addresses it



The idea here is to match learning objectives with content. Most often, if eLearning content developers have done their job well, complaints arise as a result of not being able to demonstrate the real value of the deliverables to the client. The two strategies discussed above should help allay such criticism from clients.


  1. Customer feels the content is too “light”


At times, while the client might like what you’ve created, their chief complaint is that the course appears to be too “skinny’ or that the content is too “light” on dealing with specific topics. An example of such criticism might be in the form of a client objecting to just five slides covering a particular subject – as opposed to fifteen or twenty required (in their opinion).


Here’s how you might address such concerns:


  • Make sure your content (the 5-slide “skinny” version) covers all elements of the topic being objected to: Who, When, Why, What, How, Where
  • Walk the client through your approach for dealing with the topic, explaining how your “skinny” version addresses all of the asks from the customer and also covering the fact that learners’ attention span is relatively short so covering a lot of information will only overwhelm learners.


When dealing with these types of complaints (where clients want more content than is necessary), it always helps to underline the psychological elements of why “less is more” – especially when it comes to online learning. Learners are apt to simply skim through “overly bulky” content, defeating the purpose of creating it in the first place.


Once clients understand that learners will lose interest in their preferred 15-slide versions of a topic, and will better comprehend a 5-slide version, they are likely to accept your point of view.


  1. Customer insists on a full-scale course rehash

In some instances, a customer might adamantly insist upon a wholescale revamping of your design. The client might bring in additional topics to include in the course, or they may want additional subject-matter introduced into topics that you have already covered.


This can be a major challenge for instructional designers and course creators, often requiring work to start from scratch. However, there may be a way for you to deal with it:


  • Throughout the discussions, highlight aspects of the design the client is satisfied with. This puts a “positive” light on your efforts
  • Explain your rationale for why you omitted content (in the first place) that the client now wishes to include
  • Clearly identify your reasons for not wanting to add those additional topics/subjects (repetition, redundancy, covered elsewhere, outdated, irrelevant)


Where clients are still adamant, you might want to try a compromise approach. Accept that you will include some of the new topics/subjects he/she has requested; but also insist that other aspects of the course cannot be modified. This approach will make clients less likely to pursue their initial demand for a complete course re-write.


The art of overcoming complaints

Complaints are a natural process where two parties are involved in a creative endeavor – like creating eLearning content or designing online courses. However, if you understand the three pillars to overcoming complaints, you are likely to convert potential complainants into supporters. Here is how:


  1. Consult

Before commencing on major design/development, make sure you consult extensively with the client. You are inviting complaints if you start a project assuming you know what the client wants. Extensive consultations and needs analysis can head off many future complaints.


  1. Cooperate

The best way to make a client think twice before complaining is to make the client feel they are equally responsible for producing the final deliverable. While it might not be practical to have clients involved at every step of the content development process, cooperating with them on major inputs will give clients a sense of joint ownership of the deliverables. They are unlikely to then complain about how the training turned out!


  1. Communicate

In your relationship with clients, eLearning content development shouldn’t be viewed as a milestone event, but as a process. And the best way to avoid customer complaints is to have clear and continued communication during the entire process. When you communicate with clients on the development of a particular deliverable and then move forward based on such (documented) communications, it’s difficult for customers to then object to what the final deliverable looks like.


Communication (preferably in written form) also serves as proof that the deliverables were designed and developed exactly in line with client requirements. If nothing else, open lines of communication serve as an early indicator that complaints could be just around the corner. This indicator should allow you time to address client dissatisfaction before it erupts into a full-blown complaint.


Use these three, simple complaint-avoidance strategies, and the four complaint resolution techniques discussed earlier, to diffuse a potentially ugly customer satisfaction situation, and turn it into a customer satisfaction success story.



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