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7 Steps for Handling Customer Complaints

I enjoy writing about topics of personal interest, and I have extensive experience delivering customer service in the high tech industry.

Learn how to handle customer complaints in an easy and professional way!

Learn how to handle customer complaints in an easy and professional way!

How to Deal With an Angry Customer

In today's services-oriented industries, it is extremely important for employees to demonstrate a consistently high level of customer satisfaction skills. An important element of achieving this goal is the ability of every employee to handle and resolve customer complaints efficiently and effectively. Addressing client satisfaction issues and providing exemplary customer service is critical in every business environment, from local restaurants and small companies to retail outlets and large corporations with extended call centers, customer service agents, and support staff.

A customer complaint often provides an opportunity for a company to learn about deficiencies in their product, process, or service delivery—and to take steps towards improvement. Handling consumer complaints properly and effectively, either in person, on the phone, or via email, often results in a happy client who will use your products or services again. And a satisfied customer is also likely to share their positive experience with others.

Likewise, a dissatisfied customer is highly likely to share their negative experience with friends, colleagues, and business associates. And in today's environment of social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and a seemingly endless variety of online forums and blogs for sharing common complaints, a barrage of negative public criticism can quickly impact a company's image and bottom line.

Here are seven tips to help you increase your skills for improving customer service.

Marx Brothers "Night at the Opera" movie poster

Marx Brothers "Night at the Opera" movie poster

Step 1. Allow the Customer to Speak and Listen to Their Complaints

After asking the customer to explain the nature of their complaint, do not interrupt them, which can increase their anger further and lead to additional conflict. Allowing the customer to fully describe the reasons for their dissatisfaction is key to deflating and ultimately resolving their issues.

Even if the person is irate and yelling, do not take their comments personally. Try to remember that the customer is angry at the situation—not at you personally—and you are there to help address their concerns and to resolve the problem.

If angry a customer is not clearly describing their problem, try asking open-ended questions to draw out more usable information. Asking qualifying questions can have a calming effect as the irate person begins to understand that you are truly interested in their problem—and in trying to find a solution.

Step 2. Ask If You Can Repeat the Complaints Using Your Own Words

Asking for permission is a subtle but important step towards gaining the customer's trust in your willingness to address their concerns and helps to ensure that they are now listening to you. Do not include their terms of frustration in your response, but summarize the list of problems, including any specific details.

If you are not completely sure that you fully understand the customer's complaints, try asking probing questions that invite the customer to expand on the explanation of their issue. Be careful not to sound like you are challenging the customer or refuting the information that they have given you already; the goal is to gain more information so that you can better help the customer to resolve the problem.

Step 3. Speak Calmly and Clearly

When dealing with a customer over the phone, it is especially important to demonstrate your capability and professionalism, and your voice and demeanor are your best tools. Do not exhibit signs of uncertainty or nervousness. Even if the person is very irate, responding in a cool and collected manner is essential to defusing the situation.

Step 4. Look at the Situation From the Customer's Perspective

Put yourself in your customer's position, and try to empathize with their situation and their frustrations. Then, respond appropriately to their concerns. In many situations, an apology is appropriate on behalf of your company—even if you did not have any personal involvement in the issue.

Step 5. Take Responsibility for the Situation

An angry customer is looking to you for a resolution to their issues, and it is important to show them that you can assist them quickly and effectively. Unless it is absolutely unavoidable, do not infuriate the client further by transferring the call to another person in a different department.

If a call must be transferred, stay on the call until the other party answers, introduce the caller, and transition the situation. Do not just blindly transfer an angry caller—if the call is forwarded to a voicemail box or gets disconnected, the customer will be even more irate when they call back.

Customer loyalty is priceless!

Step 6. Take Action

Find out from the customer what they feel is an appropriate resolution to their problem. If their request is reasonable and within your area of authority, then provide a prompt solution for the customer. If the request is unreasonable, calmly explain your company's position and offer an alternative solution. In many instances, a credit, refund, or discount on a future purchase may satisfactorily resolve the issue for both parties.

If the request is reasonable but beyond your level of authority to approve, explain the approval process to the customer, including the expected timeframe for a response. Be sure to gather the customer's contact information and their preferred method of communication (telephone number or email).

Step 7. Follow Up!

After reaching a resolution, follow up afterward with the customer to ensure that the issue was resolved to their satisfaction. This small step is essential to verify that the issue is truly resolved and often makes a huge difference in how the client feels about how their issue was addressed. This small step is worth the extra effort and can often lead to repeat business and a loyal customer who will recommend your business to others.

A satisfied customer will tell their friends. A dissatisfied client will tell everyone!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2011 Anthony Altorenna

Tell Us About Your Experiences with Customer Complaints

Invoiceberry from London on October 31, 2013:

I think nowadays when there are so many products to choose from, customer service is extremely important. No matter if it's online or offline. People want to be treated nicely and with respect.

Whistleman on March 11, 2013:

These are some good tips. Sure seems like almost everything applies to so many communications questions, not just customer complaints.

anonymous on February 14, 2013:

Great points!

CalobrenaOmai on February 08, 2013:

There are some businesses out there that could use this lens as a reference. A business can advertise wonderful things however at times they have individuals that work in their customer service department that can make them look bad. It would be nice if all CS were helpful and polite.

Paul Turner from Birmingham, Al. on January 22, 2013:

Lots of great info. I will have to check out some of books when I have time.

abouthealthtips on January 18, 2013:

Nice detailed lens. Sometimes, customers can be difficult and there are times even if you are right, its better to just see if you can accommodate the customers problem. That includes giving a refund outside the normal refund period.

spartucusjones on January 04, 2013:

Great lens! Extra props for including the Dead Parrot sketch. Pure comic gold!

anonymous on December 25, 2012:

Yes, I love the article on customer service.

Deadicated LM on November 26, 2012:

Great informative Lens. I was an overnight hospital operator and their was no administration present during the hours I worked (it wasn't fun); I always tried to keep in mind that the person I was talking to could be talking to you on the worst day of their life.

Takkhis on November 05, 2012:

Thanks for the tips and i can imagine it.

julieannbrady on October 12, 2012:

Oh my! I was dreading a phone call I had to make to Comcast Customer Service this past week ... I first tried calling at 3:15pm one day and was told they couldn't help me -- a recording -- that they were too busy!! So, bright and early the next morning I called. I was a bit testy and I told the young man so. Long story short, he ruled in my favor and gave me the credit on my bill. I see that Comcast now is trying to make it easier for the customer to be "right" ... and I appreciate that.

Lorelei Cohen from Canada on October 08, 2012:

Lol...ah how I remember. I used to manager a store quite a long time ago. I love the Monty Python video. Now that is a very realistic complaint lol.

maryLuu on September 13, 2012:

Nice lens!

FB-Explorer on September 11, 2012:


anonymous on January 06, 2012:

Your guidance here is top notch...returning with fresh angel dust!

jadehorseshoe on January 01, 2012:

Useful Lens.

missyc2112 on November 10, 2011:

Great tips! I really enjoyed reading this. Customers are the bread and butter of our businesses and if they're not happy, neither is our business

missyc2112 on November 10, 2011:

Great tips! I really enjoyed reading this. Customers are the bread and butter of our businesses and if they're not happy, neither is our business

anonymous on September 18, 2011:

An excellent 7 step guideline to follow to assure customer service that will keep customers returning happily even after there has been an issue because its been resolved in a manner that is satisfactory to them. Now this is a customer that will provide good word of mouth advertising.