How to Handle Customer Complaints

5 strategies that can help resolve a customer complaint in a smooth and professional manner.

By Amanda Herder, Account Manager, Signature Worldwide

Complaints happen every day. When a customer complains, it is usually for a good reason or genuine concern. They usually have made a purchase that did not meet their expectation—a product, service, or maybe a combination of the two. In the customer service industry, we cannot avoid complaints. We must take care of the customer by listening to the complaint, and resolving it, to ensure a happy customer.

Fewer than half of unhappy customers will bring a complaint to your attention. Those who never say anything will tell an average of 11 other people about their bad experience. It is important that we recognize complaints as opportunities, so we can sway these averages, one resolved complaint at a time.

Customers want to know someone is listening and they are understood, and they are hoping you are willing to take care of the problem to their satisfaction. No matter what the situation is, when a customer brings a complaint to your attention—even if they do it in a less-than-desirable way—be thankful. As the old saying goes, “We can’t fix it, if we don’t know it’s broken.” Moreover, we must realize that improper handling of a customer complaint can be costly to the business.

Here are five strategies that will help you handle a customer complaint in a smooth and professional manner:

  1. Stay calm. When a customer presents you with a complaint, keep in mind that the issue is not personal; he or she is not attacking you directly but rather the situation at hand. “Winning” the confrontation accomplishes nothing. A person who remains in control of his or her emotions deals from a position of strength. While it is perfectly natural to get defensive when attacked, choose to be the “professional” and keep your cool.
  2. Listen well. Let the irate customer blow off steam. Respond with phrases such as, “Hmm,” “I see,” and “Tell me more.” Do not interrupt. As the customer vents and sees you are not reacting, he or she will begin to calm down. The customer needs to get into a calm frame of mind before he or she can hear your solution—or anything you say, for that matter.
  3. Acknowledge the problem. Let the customer know you hear what he or she is saying. If you or your company made a mistake, admit it. If you did not make a mistake and it is a misunderstanding, simply explain it to the customer: “I can see how that would be incredibly frustrating for you.” You are not necessarily agreeing with what the customer is saying, but respecting how he or she perceives and feels about the situation. An excellent phrase for opening up this particular conversation would be, “So, if I understand you correctly…” After the customer responds, follow up with, “So, if I understand you correctly, we were to resolve the problem by noon today. I can see how that must be frustrating for you.” Then be quiet. Usually, the customer will respond with “That’s right” or “Exactly.” By repeating to the customer what you think you heard, you lower his or her defenses, and win the right to be heard.
  4. Get the facts. After listening, take the initiative in the conversation. Now that the customer has calmed down and feels you have heard his or her side, begin asking questions. Be careful not to speak scripted replies, but use this as an opportunity to start a genuine conversation, building a trusting relationship with your customer. To help you understand the situation, get as many details as possible.
  5. Offer a solution. This happens only after you have sufficient details. One thing to keep in mind: Know what you can and cannot do within your company’s guidelines. Making a promise you cannot commit to will only set you back. Remember, when offering a solution, be courteous and respectful. Let the customer know you are willing to take ownership of the issue, even if it was out of your control. Take charge of the situation and let the customer know what you are going to do to solve the problem.

A quick follow-up phone call a few days later to make sure everything is OK is icing on the cake. Even a small gesture of apology can turn this interaction from disaster to legendary. The cost could be minimal—maybe a simple upgrade on the customer’s next purchase or a small gift certificate. A simple gesture like this could result in a future referral or a positive word-of-mouth marketing recommendation.

When you resolve customer complaints successfully, you will better understand their needs, retain them as loyal customers, and enhance your business.

Amanda Herder is an account manager for Signature Worldwide, a Dublin, OH-based company offering sales and customer service training, marketing, and mystery shopping services for a variety of service-based industries. For more information, call 800.398.0518 or visit www.signatureworldwide.com. You also can connect with Signature on Twitter @SignatureWorld and on Facebook.

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