How to deal with customer complaints in 9 easy steps


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November 17, 2017

Unhappy customers are an inevitable part of every business, so it’s important to know how to deal with customer complaints effectively.


In fact, the way you deal with a customer complaint can be the difference between keeping a customer and losing one. 82% of customers have not returned to a business because of a bad customer service experience.

You have one chance to resolve the issue and you have to do it well. In the words of Glenn Frey; the heat is on.


The main challenge when handling customer complaints is learning to see them as positive. They may feel like a major inconvenience at times, but they’re full of opportunities.


They can provide valuable insights and help you improve your customer experience. Most importantly, believe it or not, complaints can also lead to you gaining a very loyal customer.


It might sound like an oxymoron, but hear me out. A customer who has had a problem fittingly resolved can become more loyal than one who never had a problem. This is because they’ve seen the business react and respond to their problem. They’ve witnessed, first-hand, that the business cares about them.


Dealing with customer complaints doesn’t have to be challenging or frustrating. To prove it, we’ve come up with 9 easy steps to help you tackle any issue…


Step 1: Focus on the problem at hand


Yes, it’s an obvious one. But making sure you take in everything a customer is saying, whether it’s written or spoken, means you can give the issue the attention needed to resolve it properly.


To keep yourself focused, dedicate all of your attention to one complaint at a time. Give yourself a chance to fully understand what the problem is. If you need to, repeat back what the customer has said so you both know you’re on the right track. There’s nothing more frustrating than being offered a solution which doesn’t help you.


Step 2: Keep calm (and carry on)


It can sometimes feel like a customer is personally attacking you when they complain. Your gut instinct will probably yell at you to defend yourself or your business. But remember; it’s not personal. They’ve got a problem, they’re upset and they want you to help. A calm head is crucial.


Let your customer know that you understand why they’re upset and that you’re on their side. You want this problem resolved too.


Step 3: Ask questions


If you’re unsure about anything the customer has said, check the details again to make sure you fully understand the problem. It’s important that you’re both on the same page, so the more information you can get, the better.


Never assume you know the whole story just because you’ve seen something similar in the past. Every customer is individual and what satisfied one customer may not be appropriate for another. Every complaint should be dealt with on an individual basis and given a personalised response for that customer.


Step 4: Say sorry (and mean it)


Apologising to your customers is a vital part of dealing with complaints. Not only does it show that you’re taking responsibility, but you’re also acknowledging how they feel. They’ll know that you’ve understood them and that you care. Making that connection is key to getting the right resolution for you both.


However… if your apology isn’t genuine, you might as well say nothing at all. We’ve all experienced the indifferent and not-so-genuine “sorry for any inconvenience”. It’s been heard so often that it doesn’t really mean anything anymore.


Step 5: Always take customer complaints seriously


What if it’s a customer who’s complained before? That doesn’t mean they matter any less than anyone else.


In fact, if a customer is a serial complainer who is still coming back, you have even more reason to deal with their complaint. They’re telling you how to improve, but still returning to you. Perfect!


Step 6: Mind your language


The beauty of writing a response to a complaint is that you have time to consider your message. You can figure out the best way of explaining how you’re going to fix the situation.


Wherever possible, avoid using negative language. Phrases such as “Unfortunately…” or “I’m afraid that…” set your customer up for disappointment. They know you’re about to deliver a bit of a blow, so they’ll expect to dislike whatever you’re telling them. Try to turn the sentence around so it feels more positive. Instead of saying “Unfortunately, we don’t do that here”, try “While that’s not a service we offer, I can recommend…”.


Step 7: Resolve customer complaints quickly (but don’t rush!)


Customers will react positively if you act quickly. They’ll see that you care about the problem at hand and that you want to get it sorted. In this modern age of social media, a complaint can soon appear online if it isn’t dealt with swiftly.


According to the Restaurant and Hotel Customer Experience Survey, 72% of people said they’d wait 24 hours before posting a negative review online. This is a handy window of opportunity for you.


However, it isn’t a reason to wait a few hours before dealing with the complaint. Always try to resolve an issue effectively as soon as possible, but try not to rush it. Always let the customer see that you’re taking them seriously.


Step 8: Make sure you record all customer complaints


You should always learn from your mistakes. By making a record of all complaints, you’ll easily spot any trends or patterns. You’ll be able to work on improving your business and see how effective your efforts have been.


If you notice a recurring issue that numerous customers have brought up, don’t dismiss it. When a handful of people have complained about one issue, you can bet that many others have thought the same. For every one customer who complains, there are 26 others who don’t say anything at all. That’s a lot of customers who have potentially gone elsewhere because of that one issue.


Step 9: Take the time to follow up


This may feel like an unnecessary step, but it works wonders. You’ve resolved all issues for your customer and they’ve gone away happy. Is it possible to go an extra mile? Of course!


Get in touch with them and ask if they are 100% happy with the way things were handled. Ask if there’s anything else you can do for them. Let them know you’re following up because you genuinely hope everything was effectively and suitably resolved in their eyes.


More often than not, they’ll be grateful that you took the time to check in with them. This small step takes just five minutes, but it will be remembered.


How to deal with customer complaints: the takeaway


In any business, it’s impossible to get it right every single time. There will be times when you drop the ball. But that’s ok!


The crucial part comes next. How you deal with issues will provide your customers with a lasting impression of both you and your business. Follow our 9 simple steps to help you deal with customer complaints and ensure that impression is a great one!

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