How to Handle Customer Complaints the Right Way

woman customer support representative 5 star

Months into the pandemic in 2020, analysts at McKinsey pushed the notion of “hyper-personalized care and care of one” as a potential mechanism to enhance customer satisfaction and optimize operational efficiency. 

The customer service industry has transformed over the last couple of years with online media and consumers’ ability to seek information from all corners. This entails balancing customer expectations and service value. 

At the center of this new normal is a 360-degree understanding of customer grievances, acceptance of the possibility of a negative experience, and an acknowledgment that a customer care strategy should be an integral part of the overall business strategy. 

We’ll focus on complaint handling pertaining to the customer service industry for brevity. 

Design a Customer Complaints Support Policy

A customer service policy outlines and guides how your brand approaches providing customer service. 

Your policy should enable employees to implement a high level of customer service and resolve any customer complaints or dissatisfaction your clients might have.

The end goal of your customer support policy is to coordinate your support team’s actions, so everyone responds with one unified supportive voice that turns an unhappy customer into a happy one. 

Set up customer complaints handling process

A customer complaint handling process is a protocol your frontline support staff uses to implement your customer support policy.

It’s a procedure that outlines easy-to-follow steps when dealing with customer complaints, enabling them to remain calm and provide a smooth and professional service experience.

Complaint handling processes vary depending on the business, but most use the following 5 steps:

  1. Stay calm
  2. Listen to the customer
  3. Acknowledge their problem
  4. Record the details 
  5. Offer a solution 

Orient, engage, and train customer relations staff

Customer complaints service training is essential for all frontline staff. It equips them with the tools to implement your customer support policy and complaint handling process protocol. 

How to train customer relations staff: 

  1. Teach your brand’s customer support policy
  2. Educate staff on your complaint handling protocol
  3. Teach staff the necessary skills
  4. Train employees to listen
  5. Teach support staff about phone etiquette
  6. Implement regular training sessions
  7. Train staff using real scenarios
 

Evaluate your customer service

Monitor and measure the performance of customer support staff

The businesses that provide the best customer service monitor how their customer support staff provide their service. 

When monitoring and measuring performance, your goal’s to determine which members need further training and evaluate how efficiently they can implement your customer support policy and the protocol.

Identify any common areas where support staff have difficulties resolving customer complaints so you can implement procedures to improve your overall customer service. 

Communicate and reinforce the customer complaint handling procedures with new hires

All new staff members must receive adequate training to become acquainted with your complaint handling process.

Provide training sessions with other experienced staff members and allow new hires to sit in on customer calls to learn how to listen, empathize, and respond appropriately.   

Ensure they learn your complaint procedure by heart, so they deal with complaints the same way every time. 

Know Your Customer

You hear a lot about knowing your customers concerning sales and marketing, but it’s also vital to understand who your customers are when providing support.

When you know your customer’s average demographic, such as age, gender, education level, income, expectations, and beliefs, you can create a customer support policy that meets their needs.

Be aware of your customer’s needs

Your customer’s needs motivate them to choose your brand’s products or services over another.

Your support staff must understand those needs to relate to them when listening to customer complaints and applying your complaint handling process. 

Needs come in 3 forms:

  1. Functional needs: All products and services perform a function and if it fails customers complain. To provide support, your staff must know what those functions are. 
  2. Social needs: Social needs relate to how people want to be perceived when using your brand. It’s the psychology behind your branding efforts and your complaints staff must know and understand it. 
  3. Emotional needs: Emotional needs are how consumers want to feel when using your brand’s products or services. Support staff must be aware of these feelings to connect with clients on an emotional level. 

Gather data from your customers

Collecting customer data provides invaluable information that helps you meet consumer expectations and implement a better customer service experience. 

The more you understand your customer’s complaints and pain points, the better you can create a customer support policy that resolves them.

Some ways you can collect your customer’s feedback data are:

  1. Product reviews: Review and rating tools enable you to manage information about what products your customers like or dislike. You can then use this information to improve your customer support. 
  2. Social media monitoring: Social media is essential for monitoring customer comments and feedback. It gives you insights into likes and dislikes, and you can respond in real-time. 
  3. Email: Email enables you to engage in one-on-one dialogue with customers and follow up to ensure they are happy with your support service. 
  4. Live chat: Live chat lets you collect up-to-date data from your customers, which you can use to implement immediate improvements. 

Segregate customer complaints feedback and understand their concerns

Segregating customer feedback into positive, neutral, and negative categories enables your customer service team to know where to focus their energy.

For example, negative feedback provides invaluable information on where your customers have problems with your service or product. You can then train your support team to react appropriately.

Positive feedback serves to boost morale and keep your team motivated. 

Don’t make assumptions about customers

To provide the best customer service, you must know—not assume—how your customers feel about your brand. 

A recent survey showed that 70% of consumers believe the most effective way for a brand to understand their problems is to ask them for direct feedback. Still, only 40% of brands use this strategy to understand their customers.

You can use consumer conversation platforms like Discuss.io to engage with your customers and improve your customer service package. 

Establish Omnichannel Communication

Omnichannel communications involve using numerous platforms and methods of communication to enable your customers to contact your support team. 

Here are 3 every customer complaint department needs: 

Integrate customer support and social media

Combining customer service and social media enables your support staff to meet consumers on their terms and quickly resolve their issues. 

As over 60% of people say speed is the most crucial element of excellent customer support, social media is a must.

Have emails, chat, and phone numbers easily accessible online

Many customers feel more confident using email as they know there’s a record of their correspondence and your support staff’s response. Email is also private and customers can use it to provide personal data. 

Live chat provides customers an instant way of contacting you to complain and allows you to resolve minor issues before they become big problems. 

Phone support is essential as it provides a personal connection between your brand and customer. Often disgruntled customers become more unhappy when dealing with chatbots that can’t pick up on human emotion. That’s where a person who can show empathy and understanding makes the difference. 

Record the responses across channels to unify the case information

Recording responses from all media enables you to build a case study that highlights recurring complaints and the channels people use to make them. Doing so provides you with a blueprint to improve your overall customer service. 

Ask the Right Questions

Every complaint you receive is an opportunity to recognize recurring friction points and implement systems that improve your service.

It’s your customer service agent’s job to find the source of these issues by asking the right questions. 

Here is when your complaint handling process kicks into action:

Clarify the nature of the complaint

Complaints are the result of a problem a customer’s having with your product or service. You can get to the root of a complaint by asking a disgruntled customer to clarify the issue and then determine if you can resolve it. 

Ask customers questions like:

  1. What do you mean by it isn’t working?
  2. Can you provide an example of what is happening?
  3. Could you expand on your point or issue further?

The more you let your client do the talking, the easier it will be to resolve their complaint.

If a customer isn’t satisfied, ask how you can improve

Asking customers for their opinion on how you can help them further is an excellent way to diffuse a negative situation and create a connection between you and your customer.

It also allows you to double-check you’ve understood their complaint correctly. So, listen intently to your customer`s suggestions, stay calm, show empathy, and take notes. 

Consumers are the end-users of our products and services, so their feedback can often prove invaluable. 

Acknowledge and proactively offer to solve their problems

Once the customer has finished, thank them, acknowledge any areas where your service may fail, and apologize. 

Repeat their suggestions back to them using phrases like “am I correct in saying” or “if I understood you correctly, the problem is,” to assure them you were listening, understand their grievance, and will resolve it.  

Don’t push for a quicker resolution

No one enjoys being side-stepped or taken for granted. If you try to resolve a complaint without an appropriate solution, that’s how your customers will feel. 

It’s better to be honest, tell people you can’t resolve their issue, and explain that you’ll transfer them to someone who can.

When you tell people you’re escalating their issue to a specialist who can resolve it, they’re often more willing to wait. 

Make Use of Technology

Your customer service staff needs modern technology to provide customer service people want and expect. 

Technology helps you improve your brand’s customer service process by connecting your consumers with support agents, delivering relative context, providing options, and enabling them to choose how they engage.

Virtual agents or chatbots for a prompt response

Chatbots and virtual agents are similar but not the same. Chatbots provide primary responses based on past scenarios. Virtual agents use AI technology to assess a customer’s complaint based on the questions, source the right solution, and use natural language processing to provide it. 

Live chat systems

Live chat is essential for answering “how-to” questions. It allows customers to contact you in real-time, ask their questions, and for your support team to respond quickly with a helpful reply. 

Conversations can continue back and forth until you resolve the issue, which assures customers you’re there when they need you. 

A customer service management (CSM) tool in the background

A customer service management (CSM) tool is a software system that helps expedite connecting customers and customer service agents and resolving complaints.

CSMs oversee and track interactions between all parties to manage and improve your customer’s experience regardless of which platform they contact you from. 

Document the Cases

Documenting customer complaint cases will enable you to identify any recurring negative experiences and issues that need addressing. 

But to record all your customer and support agent’s interactions, you need specific tools and a system that logs them in a usable way.

A customer service management (CSM) tool can help you quickly manage cases

CSMs help implement a seamless customer care service; it also enables you to record and improve service. 

With recent global shopping changes, businesses have had to adapt while maintaining a high level of service consumers now expect. In response to this new normal, every business needs the ability to deal with large volumes of digital communications. 

CSM tools can help you increase your customer service capacity using digital workflows that improve the service experience for your clients and your agents.

Record information about the customer’s complaint

Everyone hates it when one customer service representative passes you to another colleague only for them to ask you again what your problem is. 

You can avoid that infuriating scenario by training all customer support agents to recognize and record all information about a customer’s complaint so you can respond with an appropriate response.

Set templates as guidelines to streamline the process

It’s not realistic to hand-craft every customer support email you send—that’s inefficient and time-consuming. 

Templates reduce your workload as they’re pre-designed responses you can use to reply to customers efficiently via email. 

But you can also create templates for customer service agents to record complaint interactions. The template could record details like if the call is positive, neutral, negative, which product or service the consumer’s complaining about, and what the issue is. 

Past customer complaints information is essential for future reference

Complaints provide opportunities for improving your brand’s products and service. By recording past case information, you can review them and look for ways to improve how you tackle the problem.  

Use any relative customer complaint information at later times if they have the problem again, saving you time and showing your clients that you value their loyalty.

Customer Complaint Management Essentials

Let’s finish with a list of essential attributes every customer service agent needs to turn an unhappy customer into a lifelong advocate of your brand. 

Conclusion

Turning unhappy customers into loyal ones takes time. The practice of complaint handling is a process, not an event. 

The first step to achieving a satisfied customer is acknowledging that they are entitled to their experience. And the second is to be ready with a solution regardless of the complaint.

This portion of our website is for informational purposes only. Tailor Brands is not a law firm, and none of the information on this website constitutes or is intended to convey legal advice. All statements, opinions, recommendations, and conclusions are solely the expression of the author and provided on an as-is basis. Accordingly, Tailor Brands is not responsible for the information and/or its accuracy or completeness.

Terry O'Toole
Terry OToole

Terry is a serial entrepreneur with over 25 years of experience building businesses across multiple industries – construction, real estate, e-commerce, hotelier, and now digital media. When not working, Terry likes to kick back and relax with family, explore Taoism’s mysteries, or savor the taste of fine Italian red wine.