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How to Handle Customer Complaints Effectively

This author has 10 years of Customer Service experience and has handled numerous customer feedbacks.

To deal with customers effectively, we should know the customer's values and perceptions.

To deal with customers effectively, we should know the customer's values and perceptions.

Dealing With Customers Effectively

Customer service builds long-lasting relationships when injected with passion, charisma, and love for the customers and the company. It is important that a business enhances its ability to effectively deal with complaining customers and develop a complaint management system that balances the company’s and customer’s objectives.

To deal with customers effectively, we should know the customer's values and perceptions. It is also important that we know the "power" of the customers while keeping in mind that the saying "customers are always right" is not always right. Confidence and maturity should always be shown when dealing with difficult situations.

Customers are human beings and need to feel respected, valued, and treated well.

What a Customer Expects

  • They expect you to take the initiative and be proactive in attending to their needs without waiting to be asked.
  • They want you to care about what’s good for them and appreciate that they are asking you for help.
  • They expect you to act swiftly and precisely because their time is precious.
  • They expect you to provide the best and most appropriate solution to their needs and concerns.

From the above summary of expectations, we can surmise that a customer needs the following:

  1. Sensitivity and Attention
  2. Reliability and Dependability
  3. Accuracy and Speed
  4. Empathy and Understanding

Customer complaints arise when any of the above areas are not satisfied. In general, Customers compare their expectations against what they perceive to be “appropriate solutions” to their concerns. In meeting customer satisfaction, the following should be considered:

  • Will the customer be satisfied if the service experience exceeds their expectations?
  • Will the customer be dissatisfied if the company cannot meet their expectations?
  • Will the customer be neither dissatisfied nor satisfied but indifferent if their perceptions equal their expectations?

More importantly, you need to consider satisfying or pleasing the customer based on the context of what will be beneficial also to the company. The general recommendation in dealing with customers effectively is to align your complaint resolution process or service recovery procedures to the client’s needs but never over-promise what you can deliver.


Why Customer Complaints Hurt

The following are the general reasons why customer complaints hurt:

  • We fear or dread complaints because they represent our faults or inefficiencies.
  • We deny complaints and are not open to receiving them
  • Complaints are always negative.

You don’t especially want to hear anything negative about you or your company. Complaints mean you did something “wrong” or unacceptable to others. But remember that you cannot please everybody and there’s always going to be somebody complaining, so better be ready to face them. You may have developed a myopic view of what is good or bad about your performance. It is normal to take complaints personally and then rationalize or diminish the complaint to protect our dignity. This lead to a very subjective view of the situation that may be counter-productive.

Communication is a fundamental element in relationships, whether personal or business. Although a complaint is still considered a form of communication, it can be one-sided and damaging. Another issue is that when it’s between you and a customer, the situation normally turns into a lop-sided affair that favors the customer most of the time.

Above all, complaints become more hurtful when there is no equal opportunity to defend yourself or express your views.


How to Respond Effectively to a Customer's Complaint

Type of Customer and ComplaintRecommendation

Active Haters: customers who hate you no matter what you do

The best way to manage them is to completely ignore their comments and focus on doing the best that you can do. Since in their eyes, nothing you do is good enough so it’s better to tune out their comments because they might affect you negatively.

Extreme Critics: Customers who don’t hate you but notice all your mistakes

The best way is to keep one ear open. This means listening to the complaint and then assessing if it’s true or not. If it is true, then do something about it. If it isn’t, let it go and move on.

Satisfied Before, Now Irritated: Formerly loyal customers who are now thinking about whether it’s worth doing business with you or threatening to shift to another supplier

For loyal customers who get annoyed or irritated, the best way is to listen to their complaints and do service recovery procedures to win them back. Loyal customers are hard to come by these days, analyze if these annoyed and irritated customers are worth investing in so they would come back. If they are not, consider moving on.

Still Passionate, Still Satisfied: The best customers you have, hang on to them and take extra care about slip ups when serving them

You have to pay attention to their complaints because these could be a “door crack” that would allow your competitors to steal these customers from you. But don’t just pay attention; take concrete steps to let them know their comments are valued and you’re doing something to delight them.

Complaint-Handling Tips

  • Formal letters of complaint are normally used when bigger companies are involved and in cases where the problem is serious and needs a complete account of the situation details. In dealing with this type of complaint, it is recommended to avoid using another letter or the phone because this might add injury to the harm already experienced by the client. A face-to-face meeting should be initiated to discuss the issues involved.
  • Verbal/spoken word complaints are common, especially in the retail business. It is used for both simple and complex issues or complaints. Depending on the nature and gravity of the complaint, you can either use an informal or formal complaint handling procedure. The most critical point is that since the customer is right there in front of you and has just experienced dissatisfaction with your product or service, you have to act fast and do service recovery as soon as the complaint has been communicated and analyzed.
  • Telephone and e-mail complaints are generally used for less serious issues. However, they generally need to be dealt with more quickly than letter complaints. Since telephone, email, or even SMS or text complaints are very common nowadays; don’t assume right away that these complaints can be pushed aside because they are not that serious. Analyze the complaint and tell the customers what you can do to resolve the issue right away because people who use technological tools to complain generally need speedy and convenient solutions to their concerns.

Confident Communication With Customers

While it is important to show empathy towards customers, it is equally important to show confidence and courage in dealing with customer complaints. Here are some strategies to show confidence and courage in customer communications:

  • Remember that you are in the right. You are there to serve customers and no one has the right to degrade or disrespect you. On the other hand, don’t be overly sensitive. Some customers may have authoritative ways of talking.
  • Practice doing things you are scared to do. Even practicing in front of a mirror can be useful. Role-playing with co-workers can help. If you do it a few times and make it part of your standard routine, you will get over the fear.
  • Don’t mistake aggression for assertiveness. Be confident but nice. Sometimes people screw up their courage to deal with an unpleasant situation by becoming aggressive or angry. If you show anger, the customer is likely to respond negatively.
  • Be optimistic and enthusiastic when you speak. Dr. Phil McGraw once said, “We teach people how to treat us.” If you appear scared or intimidated, you’re telling people to treat you as such. Be positive, relaxed, and focused.
  • Control your voice quality. People speak too fast when they are nervous. Make a point of slowing down. Put pauses between your sentences. You will sound more confident which is more important for your results than actually being confident.
  • Overconfidence can be as bad as a lack of confidence. If you appear or sound arrogant or insensitive towards guests due to overconfidence, you are in trouble. If you’re wrong, know how to apologize graciously. If you’re right, don’t rub it in.
  • Don’t talk over customers. In terms of controlling the conversation, we often see that people “talk over” customers and fail to listen. You need to avoid doing this and subtly redirect the conversation without appearing to be rude.
  • Master the ability to interrupt. The ability to interrupt is a key skill. Interrupt if the customer starts to wander from the topic. A good technique is to use the customer’s name: “Mr. Balagtas, first, we need to . . . ”
  • Stay in control of the conversation. You seize control by first listening and then telling them what you can do to help. Second, by asking questions (which necessarily determine what the other party will say next). Third, by recapping what to do, when to do and who will do it.

Tips for Communicating With Customers: What to Say (and What Not to Say)

What NOT TO SAYAnalysisWhat TO SAY

I don’t know . . .

Don’t slam the door to the client by saying you don’t know. It gives them a bad impression and you lose credibility.

Are you willing to wait for one minute, I’ll do my best to find out . . .

I don’t care . . .

Avoid giving them the impression that they are not important because in their EYES, you are the COMPANY.

I’m sorry to have kept you waiting, how may I help you?

I can’t be bothered . . .

Never make the customers feel like they are interrupting you.

Sir, please give me two minutes while I finish this and I’ll attend to you right away.

I don’t like you/We don’t like you

Some customers can be annoying but you have to keep your cool when dealing with them. Excellent service does not discriminate against customers.

Ma’am, I’m afraid your request is difficult for us to agree to. But, this is what we can do . . .

I know it all/You don’t know anything…

Never be too pushy or jump in with an explanation before the customer has finished – LISTEN. Never act rudely as if they do not know what they are talking about.

Ma’am, I think there was a misunderstanding. We only offer product replacements but not refunds.

Don’t come back . . .

Don’t give them the reason to sever the ties that your company has made with them.

I’m sorry if you feel that way about our service. But please calm down so I can help you.

I’m right and you’re wrong . . .

Never argue with the customer because even if you are right, you will still be wrong.

I agree that you have a point, Sir. However, I’m afraid that we cannot grant your request because . . .

Hurry up/ Wait

Respect your customer’s time because they are investing it on you by telling you how they feel and what they experienced. And you will get respected, too!

Ma’am, I’m very sorry to rush you but there are other people that I need to help. Are you willing to wait for two minutes?

Analyzing Customer Touchpoints

A touch point is any point at which the customer interacts with your organization. It covers any communication, human contact, and physical interaction you make with customers. At every touch-point, customers evaluate if they are delighted, satisfied, or dissatisfied with their experience. Analyzing touchpoints helps the organization map service solutions to create a better customer experience.

Delight Your Customers

1. Even the best-run businesses receive complaints.

2. Complaints allow you to see the faults in your business and fix them.

3. Customers who have a problem solved successfully are often more loyal than those who never had a problem in the first place!

4. Customers who complain are much (up to 10 times) more likely to stay with your business than those who say nothing.

5. Winning a new customer costs up to five times more than keeping an old one.

6. Complaints can point to weaknesses in your staffing or system, allowing you to make improvements.

7. Always listen politely to complaints, and offer as much help as possible. Always offer some form of a solution, even if it is not exactly what the customer asked for.

8. No matter how badly a customer has been treated, guard against being insulted or threatened by them.

9. Encourage customers to give you feedback about your service. It gives you insights on how well you are doing.

A Bible Verse about Customer Service

A Bible Verse about Customer Service

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Paul Balagtas


Paul Balagtas (author) from Philippines on November 15, 2019:

Thanks for reading the article. It is also nice that you really voiced out your concern as there is a tendency for us to keep quiet. Focus on "customer delight" is not that strong lately maybe because the order-delivery process has been streamlined so much and because customers just don't expect anymore to get delight.

DreamerMeg from Northern Ireland on November 15, 2019:

A very comprehensive article on dealing with complaints. Many customer service representatives need to learn to LISTEN to the customer. Two good experiences stand out with me. A local supermarket charged me full price for printer paper that was marked on offer. The customer service rep checked the computer and said that there was no offer. I asked her to come with me to see where I got it. She agreed, saw that it was marked on offer and immediately gave me back TWICE the cost of the paper, as well as keeping the paper. Another company lost my order, it was posted out but never arrived. As soon as I enquired, they posted out a replacement to me. I still use both those businesses.