11 Rules For Handling Customer Complaints

Customer service champions turn customer complaints into customer compliments.

It’s not fun to be around unhappy, angry or complaining people, but it will happen. Whether it’s your spouse, co-worker or customer, you will encounter many situations where people will dump their problems on you.

You’ve got to be careful in those situations. After all, a nice employee can turn a nice customer into a raging bull — if he/she uses the wrong process or says the wrong thing.

But if you know what to do with an unhappy customer, if you know how to respond to a complaining individual, you can turn them around. Here’s what I recommend.

=> 1. Listen Without Interruption.

Don’t fight back. When a customer is allowed to tell his story, his anger dissipates.

And for goodness sakes, avoid the word “no.” A customer doesn’t want to know what you can not do; he’s only concerned with what you can do. A flat-out “no” builds immediate resistance.

=> 2. Take Responsibility.

All too often I hear customer service providers try to shrug off responsibility. When they’re confronted with an angry customer, they try to point the blame somewhere else. Or they’ll use words that make the situation worse.

Avoid comments such as, “I can’t” or “There’s nothing I can do.” That’s a lie, and the customer knows it’s a lie. The truth is there is always something you can do, which may be as simple as listening to his complaint or walking him to the right person.

Don’t refer to “they.” It ticks customers off. The customer doesn’t know who “they” are and may never meet “them” anyway. It looks like you’re shrugging off responsibility. Use “I” and “we” instead. It shows you care and are taking on the challenge of fixing the problem.

Along the same lines, “the computer” is a cop-out. The customer doesn’t believe that “the computer canceled the reservation.” Computers don’t do that. A programmer wrote some code that made it happen.

And don’t use the words of a sluggard. Customers hate it when they hear, “I’m just a cashier … or … That’s not my job … or … I just work here.” That’s the point. The fact that you work there means you know something that will help the customer, and you can do something to make his life better. Don’t fall into the deadly trap of shrugging off all responsibility and playing poor-little-powerless-me. Customers will despise you.

=> 3. Show You Are Sorry.

Show some downright, old-fashioned concern. Let the customer know you’re sorry about the problem.

You are not admitting error. You’re simply letting the customer know that you regret the situation, no matter what the reason or where the fault might lie.

=> 4. Demonstrate Your Empathy.

Once the customer has calmed down a bit, let her know you understand her feelings. Say something like, “I can see how disappointing it must have been to get home and find out the product didn’t work.”

And as you demonstrate your empathy, avoid the word “policy.” When the customer hears the word “policy,” she automatically thinks your “policy” takes precedence over her “needs.” That does not make her feel important, and she may want to tell you where to put your “policy.” Instead of quoting your “policy in these situations,” show some understanding of the customer’s feelings.

=> 5. Call The Customer By Name.

The first chance you get, ask the customer her name and write it down. Use her name during your conversation. The use of names helps people to focus on the present, not the past situation that originally brought about her complaint.

=> 6. Get More Information.

Ask non-threatening, non-defensive questions to break the customer’s tirade. He will have to stop, think, calm down, and answer. At the same time, you’re getting the information you need to understand the scope and nature of the problem. And occasionally repeat back the information you hear to make sure you understand it.

=> 7. Ask Her What She Wants.

Ask the customer what you can do to make the situation right. Sometimes a customer just wants to blow off steam but doesn’t expect anything to be done about her situation. She just wants you to know how she feels. In that case, you have helped her out by listening and understanding the dissatisfaction.

If the customer wants something more, you’ve got to understand exactly what she wants. There’s no room for misunderstanding at this stage. And then go on to the next steps listed below.

=> 8. Give Him What He Wants.

In most cases it’s possible to give the customer what he wants. And if you do so, studies show that 95% of your customers will buy from you again — if you resolve the problem immediately.

If the customer’s request is impossible, explain what you CAN do. Offer alternative solutions. Don’t ever say, as I mentioned in point two, “There’s nothing I can do.” Focus on your “can’s,” not your “can not’s.”

=> 9. Set Up A Plan And Do It.

Once an alternative is decided upon, set up a course of action that is agreeable to the customer. Be specific about what will occur and when it will happen. Say something like: “I will talk to the service department this afternoon and get your refund in tomorrow’s mail.”

And then act promptly to carry out your promise before other work gets in the way and distracts you.

=> 10. Provide A Touch Point.

Apologize again. Let the customer know you are truly sorry the situation occurred. Offer your name and telephone number so your customer has a “personal contact” should there be additional questions about this or any other situation.

=> 11. Check Back With The Customer.

Whenever possible, follow up. Check back with your customer. Make sure the implementation of the solution has been satisfactory. Let the customer know you appreciated the opportunity to make things right and that you appreciate his continued business.

There’s no bigger drain on energy and profits than unhappy customers, coworkers, and family members. But you don’t have to feel helpless, beat up, bewildered or defensive if you follow the process I’ve outlined.

Action:  Take a look at the language you use with customers. Do you use such turn-off words as “no,” “they,” and “policy?” And do you say such sentences as, “There’s nothing I can do,” or “I just work here?” If so, write out a different phraseology you could use so you’ll know what to say the next time a customer complains.