Your customers are the lifeblood of your business.
Without their approval, your business would never grow, which is why customer service is so crucially important.
More now than ever, thanks to the internet and social media, people are becoming increasingly vocal about their experiences with businesses – whether it’s good or bad.
Unfortunately for customer-centric businesses, no matter how well you treat your customers and no matter how efficiently you run your business, you will receive a customer complaint at some point.
Considering that only 1 out of 26 unhappy customers make a complaint to the company, and an unhappy customer will tell about 15 people about their bad experience, chances are you’ve already lost some business due to unhappy customers without even knowing it.
Nobody likes to handle customer complaints, but these sometimes painful occurrences can be a chance for you and your business to shine. This is your opportunity to create a happy and loyal customer for life.
Excellent customer service should always be a priority, but in the unfortunate event that you receive a customer complaint, here are ten tips on how to handle it.
1. Stay Calm
It might be extremely difficult to do, you must stay calm when handling a customer complaint. This can be hard, especially since your business is probably a point of immense pride for you. But don’t take the complaint personally; it’s not a personal attack. Often, a customer complaint will highlight an area that you can improve upon within your business.
Not only that, but getting upset, losing your cool, or yelling at a customer is never a good thing. You are more likely to make good progress and satisfy your customer’s needs if you approach the problem with a calm state of mind.
Frequently, if a customer comes to you with a problem, it means that they want to be heard. Even if the complaint seems trivial to you, it clearly has some significance to them because they are taking their time to reach out to you.
Sometimes people indeed complain just because they are having a bad day, but keep in mind that we all have bad days and you never know what is going on in that person’s life.
Active listening techniques can, and should, be used with your customers all the time. Don’t assume that you know what the customer wants or needs, and don’t dismiss them as trivial either. Hear them out and pay close attention to what they’re saying. When frustrated, people can have difficulty expressing their concerns or what they need from you to make them happy. Allowing your customer to talk will give him or her time to calm down. Often, you can resolve an issue just by listening to your customers and allowing them to vent.
3. Be Kind
In most instances, you can diffuse anger and frustration by remaining kind and understanding. You can tell your customer straight away that you appreciate them reaching out about their concerns and that you want to understand exactly how they are feeling. A statement such as this from the get-go lets your customer know that you truly care and that you are ready to listen. When a customer knows that you truly care, you are well on your way to finding a reasonable resolution to the customer complaint.
4. Acknowledge the Issue
After you’ve heard them out, acknowledge the problem and repeat it back to the customer. Paraphrasing what your customer has said and repeating it back to them lets them know that you listened and that you understand what the problem is.
Acknowledging the problem does not mean that you agree with what the customer has to say, it just means that you understand them and respect where they are coming from. You can say things like, “I understand this must be very frustrating for you,” or, “If I understand you correctly…” then follow up with the paraphrased rendition of the complaint.
5. Apologize and Thank Them
It may feel difficult, but swallowing your pride and apologizing for your customer’s poor experience will put you miles ahead of the game. As with acknowledgment, apologizing does not mean that you agree with the customer, nor are you taking the blame.
It may seem counterintuitive, but thanking your customer for reaching out with their issue will also show that you’re always trying to improve your business. It demonstrates that you understand where they are coming from and that you are ready to resolve the problem for them.
6. Ask Questions
After you’ve listened to your customer’s complaint and the individual has had a chance to calm down, it’s your turn to take the initiative and get all the facts. Now is the time that you can calmly start asking questions for clarification. Start a genuine conversation with your customer. Between being kind, listening, acknowledging, and apologizing, you will have started gaining your customer’s trust.
However, it is imperative that you do not ask questions that your customer has already answered. Making them repeat themselves can heighten emotions again and make your customer feel like you weren’t listening in the first place.
7. Make It Speedy
Once you’ve gathered all of the information you need, now is your chance to find a solution that makes everyone happy, especially your customer. The faster you find a reasonable solution that everyone can agree on, the happier your customer will be and you get to breathe a sigh of relief.
It’s important to be flexible here. While it’s important to follow your company protocols and guidelines, it’s also important to be able to go the extra mile for your customers. Never offer a solution that you can’t follow through on, as that will only set you back. Perhaps offering a small gift card or a discount on future purchases will be enough to assuage the situation. You might also consider replacing the item for free or upgrading their future purchase or membership.
When trying to find a solution, give your employees enough freedom to make judgment calls independently. Passing an upset customer up a chain of command may only make the situation worse, so it’s important to avoid it when possible.
8. Document Their Responses
Complaints often include hidden opportunities for improving your product or service. Documenting them can help you identify flaws, issues, and trends. It could be a product glitch that you need to immediately address. Or maybe it’s a campaign-specific complaint that your marketing department can look into. Whatever the case, make sure to record all customer complaints for future use.
With the complaints documented, you can bring them up in monthly and annual meetings to seek advice on how to tackle the issue.
9. Follow Up
Contacting your angry customer after finding a solution for them might be the last thing you want to do, but after all that hard work, following up with your customer is the icing on the cake for them. It lets them know that their concerns are at the top of your mind, and it’s another way to show that you care.
During this follow-up, apologize again and make sure you’ve taken care of everything they needed. At this point, if the customer is happy, there’s a really good chance that they will be returning to you for your services and that they will tell their friends and family about you and how good your customer service is.
10. Come Out from Behind the Screen
Just because the internet has made it easier to provide customer service virtually doesn’t mean you should always interact via live chat or email. If you’re offering a service – such as web development, copywriting, or social media consultancy – it can pay to have a video call with your customers.
Although it doesn’t have the same effect as an actual face-to-face conversation, video conferencing still allows you to convey emotions and non-verbal cues. This is a nice way to show that you really intend to help out and solve the experience problem that led to the complaint.
You can attach a face to conversations easily enough with video conferencing apps like Zoom or Skype.
Common Customer Complaints (and How to Solve Them)
Customer complaints are usually rooted in legitimate problems. Even if you feel like you’ve done everything right the first time, you should always take every customer complaint seriously. Since we’ve gone over tips on how to handle customer complaints, let’s go ahead and take a look at the most common customer complaints and how to solve them.
Product is out of stock or on backorder
It’s frustrating when you’re patiently waiting for a product to arrive on the shelves, only to be disappointed over and over again when it never shows up in stock. Customers who are anxiously awaiting a specific product may be calling you or emailing you over and over again to find out when or if you’ll restock the item.
Even though you may not know when you will have the product available again, you can help satisfy your angry customer’s impatience by telling them that you will let them know when you get it in. Make sure you actually follow through with your promise, though.
Pro tip: If you’re using Shopify to run your business, you can ask customers to subscribe for stock updates. Apps like Notifications make it a breeze to notify customers about stock level changes, individual purchases, and more.
Lack of follow-through
Suppose you’ve promised your customer something and never get around to it. They call or email you and you never respond. Sometimes all it takes is one ignored message or email and you suddenly have an angry customer.
You can avoid this by staying on top of your emails and messages regularly, but no matter how on top of things you are, there’s always the chance that something or someone will slip through the cracks and be forgotten. We are all human after all.
If this happens to you, own up to your mistake and don’t lie about it. Apologize, then handle the issue right then and there. Try to avoid putting the problem off any longer. Then make sure to follow up with them a few days later after you’ve resolved the problem.
Customer service issues
It’s understandable for a customer to become frustrated when your customer service representatives don’t know the ins and outs of your products or services, if your employees act disinterested, or if your customers are straight-up ignored. If you carry a product or offer a service, both you and your employees are expected to be the experts. When customers have questions that can’t be answered or if they can’t find someone to answer their questions, you’ve got a problem.
Make sure your employees are well-acquainted with your products and services, as well as trained in customer service. If the above does happen to you, you can assure your customer that customer service reps are receiving training. Plus, offer to send additional information about the product. And be sure to address these kinds of issues with the employee as well.
Broken or defective product
It’s expected that a customer would complain if a product breaks or if the service does not meet their expectation. If you’re not the product manufacturer, then this may not be your fault, but the customer might blame you for it anyway. Or, due to misunderstanding how to use the product, they simply have a lack of knowledge.
You can handle this by replacing or refunding the dysfunctional product. Find out what the customer needs, then help them accomplish that with the chosen item or service. Or educate the customer if there’s a lack of understanding of how the product or service works. Explainer videos work great for this purpose.
With the many social channels and forums available on the internet, there are a lot of opportunities and platforms for customers to share feedback on.
Even if they do not complain directly to you, you can still find reviews and complaints online that you can address. Sometimes, if left alone, these complaints can snowball and turn into a much bigger issue, so it’s important to be proactive and address these as quickly as possible.
Some platforms to keep tabs on:
- Google My Business
- Angie’s List
- Consumer Affairs
Remember that it’s okay to stand up for yourself
People complain. We all do it, but if a situation gets out of hand and if the customer is belligerent or threatening you with bodily harm,you have every right to have them removed from the premises or discontinue conversation with them. The old adage “The customer is always right” is not 100 percent true in today’s customer service realm. You do not have to put up with being called names or being threatened.
Handling customer complaints is not fun for most of us, but if done in a warm, professional manner, chances are both you and your customer will be satisfied with the outcome, and you’ll end up with a life-long customer.
To summarize, here are ten steps you can take to effectively resolve customer complaints:
- Stay calm – Approach the problem with a peaceful state of mind sets the foundation for effective complaint handling.
- Listen – Often, paying attention to what customers are saying will help you understand the issue at hand.
- Be kind – Be kind and understanding. It will help you diffuse anger and frustration.
- Acknowledge the issue – Reiterate the complaint to demonstrate that you understood the customer’s pain point and respect them for connecting with you.
- Apologize and thank them – Swallowing your ego and apologizing for the poor experience can help you gain a competitive edge.
- Ask questions – Start a conversation by calmly asking customers questions for gathering facts and taking the initiative.
- Make it speedy – Come up with a quick resolution and only promise something that you can follow up on to make customers happy.
- Document their responses – Document every complaint so that you and your team can review them later to identify issues, opportunities, and trends.
- Follow up – After coming up with a resolution, reach out to customers to let them know that their satisfaction is your top priority and apologize again for the negative experience.
- Come out from behind the screen – Use web conferencing tools to have a video call with the customers so that they know you care.