How to effectively respond to customer complaints?

Customer complaints are timeless. No matter the size, nature, or success of your business, you will always have at least a small percentage of people who aren’t happy with what you do. The idea that you can’t please everyone is as true today as it was a century ago.

But never before in history has it been easier for customers to complain. To criticise a business, customers don’t have to take the time to talk with you. They can simply pick up their phone, type a few angry sentences, and hit send via email, review sites like Google, social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, or any number of online forums and discussion boards.

Unlike the old days, customers don’t have to be loyal to any one business: they will just Google your competitors. Since a customer service makes the backbone of any successful business, you can’t afford to turn off a customer. To prevent this from happening, it’s important to first understand what might be causing your customers to say, “I’m not buying anything from you again.”

Here is few suggested steps you can follow when responding to customer complaints

  1. Listen to or read the customer’s complaint

When you have a customer complaint, your first job is to listen to the issue and focus on what your customer is experiencing. Regardless of whether the complaint is over a price increase, a bad meal, or a service outage, your customer is reaching out to you to express their frustration.

It’s easy to become defensive or to write off the complaint, but keep in mind that complaints rarely exist in a vacuum if one customer is coming to you with this complaint, several others are keeping quiet about the same one. A customer’s complaint should always be treated as legitimate, so give their story your full attention and empathy. 

  1. Take a moment to process the criticism

Some feedback can hit hard. It’s not easy to acknowledge that you let a customer down, but getting to the root of the problem is an essential step to properly handling the complaint. If you get this feedback online such as through an online review or through social media you have some time to understand where the customer is coming from. 

This will be a bit harder if you are getting this criticism in real-time, like in person or over a phone call. The latter situation calls on you to put yourself in your customer’s shoes sooner than later and truly prioritise fixing the issue which can only be done if you listen to the complaint and digest the meaning within it.

  1. Determine what action you will take to address the problem

Customer complaints can be commonplace, so chances are you will know how to solve an issue almost immediately after listening to the details behind it. However, as you are well aware, sometimes a complaint comes completely out of the left field and you are not sure what to do. If you need some time to think about the best course of action, be honest with your customers. Tell them you need time to figure out how you can best make it up to them and provide a timeline for when you will reach out with a solution or better yet, ask customers what they need for you to make it up to them, and figure out if their request is doable.

  1. Thank the customer for their feedback

We have harkened back to this idea a few times, but it’s important the majority of customers who have complaints with your business will not communicate them to you. That can leave you totally in the dark about how your customers really feel. Therefore, the first thing you should say when responding to a customer complaint is “thank you for letting me know.”

There’s no law that states customers have to share feedback or leave a review. Some customers feel uncomfortable confronting businesses with negativity and would rather just ignore the issue or stop doing business with you altogether. The information that feedback contains can radically improve your customer experience, so even if the comments don’t make you feel good at the moment, you should still thank customers for their insight.

  1. Apologise and repeat your understanding of the issue

Immediately after thanking the customer, you should apologise for what happened and express empathy by explaining your understanding of the situation. This response thanks the customer for sharing feedback, apologises for the issue, explains what led to the situation, and shows an understanding of how the issue affected the customer. 

  1. Clearly outline your plan to remedy the situation

A proper response to a customer complaint is incomplete without an explanation of what happens next. These days, it’s best practice to go above and beyond when remedying customer complaints. 

  1. Thank the customer again and offer follow-up information

If you have followed the steps up until now, the complaint should be sufficiently addressed and your customer should feel like the issue has been fully resolved. If that’s the case, thank the customer once again for reaching out and offer follow-up information or instructions if the customer needs to get back in touch with you.

This step is particularly important for online reviews, which contain much less back-and-forth discussion (if any) compared to complaints made over email, on the phone, via social media, or in person. If customers are writing a review online, they might not have the contact information to follow up with the best person, so consider leaving the name, phone number, and/or email address of the person to speak to at the end of a negative online review.

  1. Check in to see if the customer is happy with the result

After some time has passed, you should follow up with customers to see if they are satisfied with the resolution. Some issues can be followed up with a few days or even weeks after they were resolved, while more time-sensitive ones warrant a follow-up within a day.

Use your gut here it’s better to over-communicate after a customer complaint than the other way around, as it shows you really do care about the problem and wish to make up for it.

  1. Incorporate changes from customer feedback.

After all is said and done, it’s time to follow through with your promises. If you complained about a mishap and were promised a change that didn’t happen, wouldn’t you be pretty upset?

Not every complaint warrants a change in business strategy. This is on you to listen carefully, draw connections between complaints, and determine if larger action is warranted. If you receive multiple complaints about one employee, one product, or one feature, that probably means there’s a problem with that employee, product, or feature that needs to be addressed.

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About the author: Sheenal Naiker
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