Six steps to excel at handling customer complaints

As we all know, when handled effectively, complaints can present us with powerful opportunities to build strong relationships and customer loyalty while also improving our service. That’s why it’s essential to ensure that Customer Service teams are fully trained, and equipped with the resilience, motivation and resources to step up and embrace these potentially more challenging customer interactions and transform them into successful experiences for everyone concerned.  When all the right elements are in place, having the opportunity to turn a negative into a positive that then drives our reputations and retention rate forward can be hugely satisfying and rewarding. 

Calm, structured thinking and a positive mindset

To provide an outstanding level of service in any complaint situation requires calm, structured thinking and a positive mindset.  Instilling a consistent, measured and disciplined approach to how we handle complaints will empower our teams with the confidence and capability required to deal with them satisfactorily, and to even showcase our impressive, highly valued customer service skills.

Complaints are valuable

To be most effective, it’s important to see complaints as valuable, even positive issues to be dealt with rather than something to fear or feel embarrassed about – regardless of how the customer brings the matter to your attention.  Customers themselves can have negative attitudes about complaints at the outset for several reasons – they may be embarrassed to raise with you or the organisation, they may be upset or angry about what they view as wasted time, effort and expense or could have been ignored in other similar situations in the past. 

Reactions come in all shapes and sizes 

People can become surprisingly animated and passionate when they are disappointed with a company’s level of service or product quality. Some customers don’t complain, they just take their business elsewhere.  Others may be shy about complaining and can only do so if they have worked themselves up to a high level of anger and frustration, while some might be fearful that nothing is going to be done unless they make a big fuss to gain attention.  It’s also important to remember that some may wish to complain from a position of calmness and not anger, wanting to tell us the service provided has not met their expectations and hoping to provide constructive feedback to improve what they usually regard as a good, reliable service. 

Open, alert and listening

Similarly, disappointed customers can display a whole spectrum of emotions and motivations when things go awry, some of which could result in subtle feedback rather than overt complaints. It’s important that each is treated with respect which happens when we are open, alert and listening. How Customer Services teams respond from the outset is crucial to turning a negative into a significant positive and an opportunity to build on our customer relations. 

We have drawn some key aspects from our unique and comprehensive customer service excellence training, which uses our Mindset, Language and Actions Toolkit, into a useful 6-Step Summary for Handling Complaints which is particularly helpful for Customer Services teams:

  • Step One – Listen without interruption or defence

Regardless of the emotions and any exaggerations the customer might display, it’s essential to listen fully and carefully to the complaint without interrupting.  Be careful not to deny or argue – just listen.  This can help to defuse the customer’s emotions and give you time to remember that getting defensive is not appropriate and would almost certainly inflame the situation.  Calmness is key!  However the customer chooses to express their dissatisfaction, you can understand their position and control your own response.

  • Step Two – Show appreciation, certainty and empathy

Next, it’s important to voice your appreciation for the customer bringing this to your attention, to reassure them that you will find a solution or way forward that will be to their satisfaction and show empathy that the situation has arisen.  Here at MGI and during our customer services training, we call this Glad > Sure > Sorry, and it’s an incredibly valuable tool which expresses empathy, acknowledges the existence of the problem while clearly showing that you understand the customer’s feelings, without taking liability for the situation.  This helps to calm the customer if needed. Once customers realise someone can appreciate their problem and feelings in the matter, they are much more willing to participate calmly in finding a solution to the situation with you.

  • Step 3 – Ask questions to understand the problem and find out what the customer wants

If the customer was providing feedback from an emotional state, once they have calmed and high emotions have been removed, the information they give may be clearer.  Providing a summary of what you understand so far is usually helpful, and then ask questions to draw out more relevant information and facts so that you can both agree on the specifics of the issue.  What the customer wants may be obvious, in which case, repeat it and ask for confirmation of your understanding.  In some cases, the customer may be satisfied with an acknowledgement that the company appreciates what has happened.  If their request is not specific, ask them what they would like to happen regarding their complaint, and again, confirm it so that everyone is clear and in agreement. 

  • Step 4 – Explain what you ‘can do’

Next, be clear and specific about what you can do to resolve the situation.  If what the customer wants is something you can do, show absolute commitment and that you are taking ownership and responsibility, and take the appropriate action straight away.  If what the customer wants done is something you are unable to do, then you need to go to the next step.

  • Step 5 – Discuss options and agree on immediate action

In a solution-focused way you should discuss the alternative courses of action and present them in terms of benefits or drawbacks for the customer for each option.  For example, one alternative might be less costly to the customer, but might take more time, and vice versa.  Once the options have been fully discussed, you and your customer need to agree on a course of action which is specific and includes clear time frames and points of responsibility.  Ensure the customer knows who will do what and by when, where and how; this gives the customer confidence that something will really be done.  Then, act immediately.  If there are any delays or deviations from the agreed plan, it’s crucial to keep your customer updated and to agree any new plan that might arise.

  • Step 6 – Follow up to ensure complete customer satisfaction

After the complaint has been resolved, do your best to contact the customer to make sure the solution was satisfactory to them.  Take the opportunity to thank them for their continued business, and to express your appreciation for their feedback and the opportunity it has given your organisation to correct the situation and, if relevant, learn and improve the service.

How we respond to challenges makes all the difference.  As we have seen consistency is key, alongside a calm, well-structured and sincere response that restores the customer’s faith and confidence in you and the organisation. Customer Service teams who are empowered with a solid skillset and the right resources to ensure success will welcome complaints and feedback with confidence and capability, enabling them to build strong, long-term customer relations and loyalty, along with enhanced reputations for themselves and the organisation.

 

How can we help?

To learn how MGI’s unique Mindset, Language & Actions Toolkit can empower your people with the skills and abilities to excel at every aspect of outstanding customer service, visit our Customer Service Excellence Training webpage or book a consultation with us to have a chat.

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