10-step formula for successful complaint handling

10-step formula for successful complaint handling 

10-step formula for successful complaint handling 

Capitalising on the fact that complaints provide an excellent opportunity to learn and develop stronger, more collaborative relationships with customers gives a strong rationale for ensuring our teams are well equipped to handle these situations. Our proven formula for handling complaints has given thousands of service providers around the world the confidence to positively manage and help dissatisfied customers while also providing a consistent and professional response. It all comes down to ten essential steps. 


Step 1 – Listen well 

The first and most crucial step in handling customer complaints is actively listening to what the customer has to say. Customers should feel heard and understood. Customer service teams that can listen without interrupting while demonstrating empathy and understanding can defuse the situation and any heightened emotions, while also gathering and recording the necessary details to effectively address the issue. Once the customer has finished making the initial statements, asking any clarifying questions will be beneficial; the key is to listen and not contradict anything the customer says at this important initial contact. 


Step 2. Remain positive and open-minded 

The next step is to acknowledge the complaint in a supportive manner, understanding that even if the customer is making unreasonable or exaggerated claims, you can understand the reasons why they are upset and, most importantly, choose your response to de-escalate the situation. A simple request such as, “May I just make sure that my understanding of the situation is clear so that we can find a good solution for you?” shows that you have listened and are willing to take action to move the situation forward. 


Step 3. Respond with MGI’s Glad > Sure > Sorry tool 

Glad > Sure > Sorry is an invaluable three-part tool from our proven Mindset, Language & Actions Toolkit which is often referred to as a tipping point for satisfactorily resolving complaints by participants on our training programmes. You can download a Guide to this tool here. It allows you to immediately demonstrate that you welcome the complaint, while also being clear that you intend to take action to find a solution and, if necessary, apologise. Here is an example: “I’m glad you told us about this situation so that I can help. I’m confident we can work together to find a solution and I’m sorry this has happened.”


Step 4. Express empathy and reassurance 

Empathy is key in making the customer feel valued and opening the door to collaboration. Expressing an understanding of the impact that the situation has had on the other person and reassuring them that you will work with them to find a satisfactory solution will help to move the situation forward while building trust and confidence. In business situations, it is important to empathise with the situation and impact rather than the emotion before quickly moving on to action. For instance, “I can hear the impact this has had on you, and I assure you we will do everything we can to find a good way forward together as quickly as possible.”

Step 5. Ask questions to understand 

Once the initial situation has settled, it’s important to summarise the information you have gathered so far. This is because the customer’s initial information may have been distorted or exaggerated due to heightened emotions. Ask questions to gather all relevant information to fully understand the complaint so that you can propose the best options and solutions. Ensure you have the customer’s agreement on exactly what the issue is. 

Step 6. Find out what the customer wants 

The answer to this question may be obvious; if so, repeat it and ask the customer to confirm your understanding. You can also demonstrate your willingness to help by asking, “Is there anything else you would like us to do?” If the customer’s request is unclear, ask what is most important to them in resolving the situation. In some cases, the customer may be satisfied with simply “letting the organisation know” what happened; having someone listen and empathise may be all they require. If so, simply thank your customer for reporting their complaint and assure them that it will inform future learning and improvement. 

If the customer wants something specific, find out exactly what that is and confirm it with them clearly.


Step 7. Say what you CAN DO 

Next, explain to the customer what you can do. If what the customer wants is something you can do, take action right away, making it perfectly clear what that action is. If you are unable to fulfil the customer’s request, you need to proceed to the next step.


Step 8. Discuss options and solutions and agree on action 

It’s important to fully discuss the options and solutions available to the customer, presenting them in terms of benefits or drawbacks for each alternative. For instance, one option may be less expensive for the customer but require more time, and vice versa. Offering viable options gives the customer a sense of control over the outcome. 

If at any point you are not sure exactly what you can do for the customer, it is important to ensure you let them know you will take a time out and check, making sure you do not give them false hope of a solution you are not sure is possible or create doubt either. Finding out what is possible is the focus. 

If none of the options satisfy the customer and you have exhausted all your options, it is time to involve other team members or management. After thoroughly discussing the alternatives, you and your customer need to agree on a course of action that is as specific as possible. Make sure the customer understands who will do what, when, where and how, which will increase the customer’s trust in you and the organisation.


Step 9. Take action immediately 

Action is vitally important in resolving complaints. Once a solution is agreed upon, implement it promptly to avoid further dissatisfaction or undermine trust. Ensure all team members are aware of the plan and prepared to execute it immediately. If any delays or deviations from the agreed-upon course of action occur, you need to notify your customer immediately and negotiate a new plan of action.


Step 10. Follow up to ensure customer satisfaction 

After resolving the complaint, follow up with the customer to ensure they are happy with the solution. A follow-up call or email shows that you care about their satisfaction and are determined to make things right. This step also allows you to gather feedback on how the complaint was handled and make any necessary improvements to the process. 

Handling customer service complaints effectively is a multifaceted process that requires empathy, attention to detail and a commitment to continuous improvement. Following this 10-step formula allows customer service teams to resolve individual complaints while also enhancing their overall customer service approach, resulting in stronger customer relationships, increased loyalty and a better reputation.  

Get in touch to learn how MGI’s Mindset, Language & Actions Toolkit can help your customer service teams handle complaints effectively and confidently. 

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