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6 Steps to Handle Customer Complaints

Joseph Levy
Fact: dealing with the complaints of irritated customers can be extremely exhausting.

True story: when I was growing up, my dad showed no mercy to customer service representatives. He would verbally attack them as if they themselves had personally, intentionally, and maliciously caused whatever catastrophe he was calling about that day.

“This is utter nonsense!” he would exclaim.

“Are you stupid?” he would ask.

And there was also the classic, “You clearly need more training. Let me speak to your manager.”

One study suggests that 35% of customers have become angry when talking to customer service. However, encountering customers like my dad doesn’t have to make you nervous. As with anything else, if you’re familiar with the right procedure and you use it mindfully, interactions of that sort can be an opportunity for a truly favorable outcome.

Step 1: You Can’t Fix What You Don’t Know Is Broken

After politely greeting the customer and thanking them for reaching out to you, your job is just to pay close attention. People have a basic need to be understood, and the best way to understand someone is to be attentive to them.

This is particularly true when someone comes to you with a problem. If they’re contacting customer service, they have an issue ranging anywhere from something minor, which can be remedied in moments, to something serious that requires specific expertise and more time.

But in either case, they want to know that you’re focused on what they’re saying. This applies to any type of interaction, whether it’s over the phone, through online chat, or through email. Concentrate on every detail they give you.

Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by scrolling through Facebook or glancing at the open window on your computer with the recipe for tonight’s dinner. Just be totally there for the customer in that moment.

Remember that you must maintain your attention for the duration of your communication with them. If they’re just as civil and cordial as you, great! Stay attentive. If they’re particularly flustered or agitated, that’s obviously not so great, but keep paying attention…ideally even more so.

Important elements of a customer’s complaint can easily be missed when they’re particularly emotional. So if the customer is frantic or disgruntled, that’s all the more reason to focus on what they have to say.

Pro Tip: Have the intention to address the complaint with all the information you can possibly gather

Step 2: Show That You Care

You’ve given the customer the opportunity to explain their issue. This might have required you to wait for a long time while they vented. But now, take the chance to empathize with them.

Statistics offered by Salesforce.com suggest that 70% of a customer’s relationship with a business depends on how the customer feels they’re being treated by that business. So, it’s vital that they know they’re valued.

Be sure to respond with something like, “I’m sorry that you’re experiencing this problem” or “I can see why you’re frustrated.” Sometimes a simple “I understand” is all it takes to show the customer you were following Step 1.

This display of empathy is necessary, whether you’re speaking with the customer on the phone or communicating with them via email or online chat.

Granted, it might be slightly more challenging to show real appreciation for their problem in text. However, saying anything that conveys your sympathy for the customer can be beneficial, even if it’s written. Just be direct.


Pro Tip: You don’t have to give an award-worthy performance or type a 500-word reply, but your tone has to appear genuine to the customer. People can tell when you’re just reciting a script or copying and pasting text without interest in their problem

Step 3: Show That You Were Listening

After you’ve empathized with the customer, the next step is to demonstrate that you were indeed paying close attention to what they were saying. Take this time to accurately restate what they conveyed to you when they described their issue.

The more details you provide, the more likely they are to believe that you were indeed being attentive and that you really understand their problem.

As I said earlier, if a customer is particularly emotional when they describe their issue, the general nature of their complaint or some of its major elements may get lost along the way. Of course, not every customer will be explosive. But really, it doesn’t matter how they present their complaint, because summarizing it is crucial at this point.

It creates the opportunity to clarify whatever may have been miscommunicated by the customer, or even misunderstood by you. It also focuses the remainder of the interaction on a single point, by eliminating anything else that’s not relevant. Moreover, it’s likely to give the customer confidence in your capability.

Pro Tip: Anyone can overlook a detail or two, so after you’ve restated the customer’s complaint to the best of your recollection, remember to simply ask, “Is that correct?” Taking notes while the customer is speaking is also a good idea

Step 4: Find Out How To Make Them Happy

It’s a safe bet that the customer doesn’t have your expertise. Nevertheless, a satisfied customer is vital to any business, as 50% of customers will switch to a competitor when their needs aren’t met. The next step is to prove that to them.

One way to do that is to ask what kind of resolution would satisfy them. For instance, simply inquire, “How can we make this better for you?” This lets them feel that they have influence, which can clear up any anxiety or doubts they may still have at that point.

Of course, not every situation will be straightforward. But merely asking what would make them happy helps you focus on the list of actions you can take for them. It also makes them feel like they’re actually appreciated by your business.

Pro Tip: If the resolution suggested by the customer is impractical or impossible, don’t immediately say so. That makes possibly necessary negotiations difficult, as the customer might feel that they’re just being dismissed. It’s better to say, “Okay, let me see what I can do

Step 5: Come Together To Find a Resolution

If you can give them what they want, then do it. If not, then try to find a solution that comes close to what they initially wanted, or some sort of satisfying compromise.

Think about it: if the customer has spent time and energy bringing their problem to you, then they deserve a return on that investment. This is especially true if they’ve waited on the phone for a long time, or if their complaint is particularly complicated or serious.

Once you have decided on a resolution, put it into action. Subsequently, express your gratitude once more for their patience and for raising the complaint. Lastly, reiterate your commitment to the value of their business relationship.

Pro Tip: Put yourself in the customer’s place. Think about how you would like an expert to handle your own issue

Step 6: Following Up Is Good for Everyone

Remember that the business relationship with the customer isn’t over when the conversation is done. Do some follow-up investigation and see what happened after you said, “Have a nice day.”

It’s a good idea to reach out to the customer within a few days and ask if they’re happy with the outcome. If your communication was conducted online, then email them. Don’t forget to remind them that their feedback is important.

This is good practice for you as a customer representative. It reassures the customer of their value, and it’s beneficial to the business as a whole.

Don’t Rush! Be Calm and Take It One Step at a Time

Remember to stay calm and focused throughout the entire process. Try to keep the conversation aimed in one direction, and always maintain professionalism while you interact with the customer, regardless of their problem or their tone.

When you have this attitude and methodically take a step-by-step approach with every interaction, then EVERYONE profits, even if the customer on the other end is my dad.

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