Handling a client’s complaint well can mean not only keeping that client, but also increasing that person’s loyalty to you.

Research suggests that a client who complains and then feels that the issue was dealt with appropriately will be more loyal to you than if there was no complaint at all, says Jasmin Bergeron, a Montreal-based public speaker and director of the MBA program in financial services at l’Université du Québec à Montréal.

Bergeron offers five steps for handling a complaint effectively:

1. Get some privacy
If your client is in your branch, find a private area or office where you can have a discussion without disrupting others.

Be a good host; offer the client something to drink. It will set a friendlier tone for the conversation.

2. Listen more than you speak
Listening — and not talking — is key. A client who complains wants the issue resolved but also wants you to understand why there is a problem.

Empathize with the client. Say: “I totally understand that you are frustrated and I want to resolve this with you.”

3. Keep your language relaxed
Be aware of how you ask questions. Instead of pointedly asking the “why” or “what” of a situation, start your questions with phrases such as “out of curiosity …”

For example, if your client is upset with the way an employee treated him or her, ask your client: “I’m curious. What happened with that employee?”

“It’s one of the first things psychologists learn in university,” Bergeron says. “It makes the questions more informal, more friendly.”

4. Follow up
What the client perceives you to be doing as a result of his or her complaint plays a big part in how they feel about the situation.

Bergeron says he has seen many advisors go the extra mile to resolve a conflict, but because they didn’t follow up immediately, the client thought nothing was being done.

When you are investigating a complaint, keep the client updated. He or she will appreciate being informed of the process and will know the issue is being taken seriously.

5. Avoid email responses
Some clients may want to complain but not necessarily enjoy talking on the phone. So, you may receive an email telling you why a client is unhappy.

When you receive a complaint by email, Bergeron says, call the source right away.

“You need the interaction,” he says, “and the best time to resolve a conflict is now.”

Talking to the client is important because there might be legal issues surrounding the topic in question.

A common problem with email is the degree to which a conversation’s tone can be misinterpreted. If you must say “no” to a client, you can choose your tone when speaking. With email, your response is left up to the client’s interpretation.