Part of an effective strategy for business growth and customer retention is knowing how to handle customer complaints. Sometimes, it’s more important to listen, and other times, an apology will resolve the issue. Either way, developing efficient procedures and prompt customer complaint responses will help build loyalty and a strong customer base.
Here are 25 tips from the pros on how to handle customer complaints:
1. Show Initiative
Chris Smith, Founder, I Am Net Worthy
Let the customer know what changes will be made to ensure you don’t make the same mistake again. Perhaps even offer something to make the situation better, such as a discount on their next purchase, or an exclusive option just for them. The point is to make sure your client knows that you are aware of the mistake and that you will make changes.
2. Be Open Minded Towards the Customer’s Perspective
Deborah Sweeney, CEO, MyCorporation
No matter how upset the customer may be, be open minded and willing to learn and listen to what they have to say. This better allows you to understand their mindset and needs. Once you have embraced their mindset, you can work together to fix the issue and provide a satisfactory solution.
3. Listen to the Customer
Sacha Ferrandi, Founder & Principal, Source Capital Funding
Listen to the customer carefully so you can have a full understanding of the problem in order to come up with a solution. Give them time to express all of their concerns without interrupting. It’s your job to understand the customer and not take sides. Keep a positive attitude, so nothing escalates any further.
4. Never Disagree With the Customer
Eli Nupanga, SEO Specialist & Founder, Mars Hill Marketing
We never disagree with an unhappy client. This doesn’t mean we can’t explain what happened. Accepting that the client is unhappy quickly de-escalates the situation, and then we can talk about how to move forward and find a solution. It’s a relationship.
5. Give Your Employees Proper Training
Charlette Beasley, Editor, Fit Small Business
There’s always room to improve your employees’ customer service skills, and creating a training program can help. TalentLMS is an easy-to-use cloud learning management system (LMS) that allows you to train employees, partners, and customers by building e-learning courses in minutes. It’s easy to maintain, and its mobile-friendly features are perfect for creating effective online training modules for staff. Prepare your workers to deal with customer service issues before they happen. Try TalentLMS for free.
6. Give Genuine Responses to Online Customer Complaints
Chas Cooper, CEO & Founder, Rising Star Reviews
Online complaints are as much an opportunity as a problem. The key to handling online customer complaints is to understand that you’re not just responding to the complainer. You’re responding to show the whole world that your customers can trust you to do the right thing when problems arise. So when you respond to online public complaints, make sure you go out of your way to sympathize with the customer and solve their problems. Whether or not you win over the unhappy customer, you’ll win over hundreds of future prospects.
7. Empathize With Your Customer
Amie Devero, Strategy Consultant & Executive Coach, Amie Devero Coaching & Consulting
Go into that customer’s world. No matter how unfair you may think the complaint, there is some real and valid experience behind it. Dealing with it starts with truly listening, validating, and trying to step into what the customer experienced that left them upset. Ask questions: When did this happen? Exactly what happened? What did you expect, and how was that expectation thwarted? Who did you deal with (so that I can help them never to make that error again, not to punish them)? The more detailed and specific information you can get about the complaint, the more real empathy you can generate. Doing this will defuse the customer’s anger.
8. Take Ownership of the Complaint
Brett Downes, SEO Specialist, DFY Links
Too many times people are passed on to another department or handed off and forgotten about. If you do have to pass the complaint to a specialist or senior manager, make sure to fully brief them on the situation before transferring the call. There is nothing worse than making the person repeat their problem again; this will make them even angrier than they were before. Continue to monitor the problem so you know when it is resolved, and then you can confirm with the customer that everything was handled properly.
9. Take It Off-line
Ramya Menon, Editor & Director of Sales, Bayut
This is especially pertinent if the person is getting aggressive or overly candid about your company. Asking them to email or direct message (dm) you, as well as offering to call them, allows you, as a company, to not air your dirty laundry online. Whether the complaint is valid or not, taking it offline and out of public view is the best tactic for managing your business’ brand and reputation. If the customer is indeed wrong, choosing not to call them out on social media will cause less embarrassment and will likely allow you to keep them as a customer in the future, as well as garner new-found respect from them.
10. Don’t Take It Personally
Laura Burnett, Business Development Manager, MHE Services Ltd.
I’ve seen numerous individuals take a complaint personally, which then stops them from being able to handle the complaint efficiently. When handling a complaint, you need to be able to ignore negative comments that someone fires at you, including any yelling or shouting. It may feel like you’re taking all the blame, but you have to remember the customer just needs to vent. How many times have you called or emailed a company, and the person on the receiving end has been in the same situation as you?
11. Treat Complaints as Part of Your Marketing Strategy
David Mercer, Founder, SME Pals
Instead of viewing customer complaints as a necessary chore, treat it as a marketing strategy. Work hard to produce really positive customer service and support interactions out of bad ones. By incorporating customer service into your marketing strategy, you not only help create growth for your business, you also build loyalty quickly (and drastically improve your customer service in the process). This in turn leads to massively increased customer retention. Turning the task of changing bad reviews into marketing opportunities should be part of every online company’s strategy because there is a direct financial incentive to do so.
12. Stay Composed & Be Transparent
Balazs Hajde, Content & Customer Support Manager, Authority Hacker
Always be respectful and patient, but assertive. Some customers are just upset, while some want to defraud you. Losing your composure can and will be used against you, while staying calm and diplomatic can win over the worst people. You should also be as transparent as possible. If you made a mistake, accept the responsibility instead of avoiding the issue. Customers prefer a company admitting they did something wrong instead of blaming other factors. It also shows that you are actively engaged with the issue and trying to fix it.
13. Actively Follow Up
Beverly Friedmann, Content Manager, ReviewingThis
If you’ve had a particularly poor customer service interaction or complaint, actively following up can really make quite a difference. Depending on company protocols, you may decide to reach out via phone or email, or you may even want to send a small gift or handwritten card. Retaining customer business and ensuring you don’t receive any negative reviews is key, and often providing a customer with additional support can make all the difference. By sending a genuine note of appreciation for their business, you’re demonstrating that you’ve listened and empathized with their concerns. This is a customer you’re much more likely to do business again in the future. Just ensure you’ve asked beforehand for appropriate contact information.
14. Let the Customer Speak First
Ashwini Dave, Digital Marketing Expert, Acquire
Instead of giving solutions, let them speak first without interrupting them. Calm them down and convince them that their problem will be solved within a short period of time. Make your customers comfortable to the level that they can share their problem. Take the time to recognize the actual problem and then act on it—giving instant solutions can backfire. Taking enough time to understand their problem and giving a one-time resolution can definitely turn an angry customer to a brand advocate.
15. Respond as Quickly as Possible
Rishit Shah, Blogger, TallySchool
For a customer, the time between the complaint and the customer care executive responding to it is the longest wait. If you respond faster, the customer will take notice of it, and your company will appear to be a responsible business that doesn’t just ignore customers after a product is sold, but also takes care of them after the sale is done.
16. Apologize to the Unhappy Customer
Francis Côté, Co-owner & Sales Manager, Ideal Fence
Apologize, and if reasonable, offer some sort of compensation. Although their concerns may not be justified, you are responsible for their satisfaction at the end of the day. So, once you have listened to them, respond with an apology that summarizes their exact concern. If absolutely necessary, also provide them with something that will win their business back—whether that is some sort of free perk or a percentage off of a service, this will go a long way in ensuring customer satisfaction. This impeccable customer service will ensure that you keep your clients and will add credibility in the long run.
17. Keep the Customer’s Mind at Ease
Brigham Pongyan, Head of Customer Service, Viakix
Instead of stating the problem and forcing a customer to wait, help the customer feel that the business is actively working to resolve their concerns. Rather than telling them to wait, you can give them something to do while waiting. A customer service rep can provide them with updates of their delayed order, advise them of other options that you can do for them, or you can just help them feel that their issue is being attended to.
18. Maintain Detailed Records of Customer Complaints
Matt Edstrom, CMO, GoodLife Home Loans
Addressing complaints without keeping records of what the complaints were about makes the assistance process moot if the same complaints are coming in on a regular basis. By keeping detailed records, it can make a company aware of underlying issues they may not have even realized existed. It can also help detect patterns in the types of issues and complaints rising to the surface, which can help nip issues in the bud much sooner. It’s important to remember that a new complaint is nothing to worry too much about, but a recurring issue is a cause for concern, so it is best to alleviate the issues before they reach that point.
19. Ensure Customers Feel Valued
Bijan Abdi, President & CEO, Freedom National Insurance Services
There are a few things that companies need to do to make sure that their clients and customers are heard and valued. One of the main things that they can do is listen to a customer and any complaint they may have, and then apologize and find a way to remedy the situation. Then you need to follow up with an offer that can remedy that problem, as well as follow up to make sure that it remedied their issue. Plus, always thank them for their continued business.
20. Look for Signs of Customer Dissatisfaction
Niaj Ranjan Rout, CEO & Co-founder, Hiver
Companies should look for signs of customer dissatisfaction—before they get complaints—to reduce customer churn. Customer churn is often preceded by a period of decreasing usage levels, so keep an eye on login activity. Companies should also measure the number of support issues raised for each customer, keeping an eye on the severity of the problems and the time it takes to resolve them.
Being able to provide customer service remotely helps businesses deal with customer complaints faster. However, at times, customer service staff tend to sound impersonal when they don’t have to address the customer face to face. Make sure to train your staff on how to express sincerity, even when in writing. They should be able to let the customers feel that they are talking to an actual person who intends to provide them with the help that they need. Expand your role-playing exercises to include chat and email customer scenarios that will train employees on the best practices in handling unhappy clients online.
Though it may sound strange at first, thanking your customer for coming forward with their complaint is an effective first step for diffusing a volatile situation. This shows that you acknowledge the error, problem, or misunderstanding and that you appreciate that the customer approached you to resolve the matter. Keep in mind that this is a better alternative than finding bad reviews online, so show the customer your appreciation and address their problem immediately.
This may seem trivial but many customer complaints end up badly because the employee comes off as insensitive. Remember that salespeople are always taught to smile in customer service training and this reflex, when left unchecked, can trigger a negative reaction to an already irate customer. Train your sales staff to empathize with their customers to help them manage their non-verbal response. Focus on paying attention, keeping eye contact, and actively listening to show customers that your team’s priority is to resolve their problem as soon as possible.
Paraphrasing is a crucial part of active listening. This means repeating the customer’s concern back to them to ensure you’re both on the same page. Allow the customer to vent and then ask if you can repeat the complaint in your own words. It’s crucial for the salesperson to get this right, because customers who come in with a complaint will usually be less patient if they are misunderstood. Provide training for your sales staff through role play to make sure they master this skill.
When a customer raises an issue that you can’t immediately resolve, it’s important to show them the steps your business is taking to remedy the problem. By acknowledging the customer’s concern, consider offering a one-time discount or credit, and then explain the processes you are developing to improve the situation. Staying honest about your company’s limitations will not only help diffuse the situation, but also build your brand’s credibility.
As a business owner, you set out to keep customers happy. But the reality is, even the best companies receive complaints, so it’s best to prepare your staff. Use our guide to help you train your employees in providing efficient customer complaint responses that will impress customers and increase loyalty to your brand.
Got more tips on how to handle customer complaints? Share them with us in the comments.