How to Handle Customer Complaints in 7 Steps

Even the most well-run businesses with great products or services run into customer issues. The ReturnCustomers blog has compiled a list of some of the most common customer service complaints. If you come across these complaints or other problems, do you have a plan in place?

  • I've been waiting here forever!
  • I keep getting shuffled from one person to the next.
  • You don't seem to care.
  • Your delivery took too long.
  • I bought your product but it doesn’t do what it's supposed to do.
  • I’m unhappy with your service.

How you engage with a customer can mean the difference between building loyalty or losing business. Review the 7 steps below to effectively deal with unhappy customers.

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1. Monitor Online Reviews

You can’t address issues if you don’t know when and where they are being posted. If it’s in your budget, use tools designed to monitor brand mentions on social media, review websites like Yelp, and more. You can also have a team member quickly scan your social media channels and review sites for comments.

2. Stay Calm and Put Emotions Aside

Your business is your baby and you’ll probably be upset if you get a complaint about a product, service, or employee. Now is the time for deep breaths and taking time you need to calm down and respond. Keep in mind that the complaint isn’t a personal attack but an opportunity to make things right and improve your customer service.

3. Listen and Record Complaint

“Active listening” simply means actively listening. This means you should fully concentrate on what is being said rather than just passively “hearing” the message of the customer. Active listening includes:

  • Building trust and establishing rapport.
  • Demonstrating concern.
  • Paraphrasing to show understanding.
  • Use objective wording. For example, "As I understand, you are, quite rightly, upset because you were overcharged for a product."

Once you have the full story, take a detailed report. You want to be able to recall the details of the conversation and respond appropriately.

4. Acknowledge the Problem and Thank Customer for Feedback

Once the unhappy customer has explained the problem, repeat his concerns so you can be sure that you're addressing the issue appropriately. Ask specific questions if you’re unclear and make sure that you've identified the issue correctly. Repeating the problem shows the customer you were actively listening and can diffuse anger and stress. It also gives you a good idea of how you can solve the problem.

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5. Gather Facts

Once you have the full report of the issue, work on your end to get to the bottom of it. That might mean digging into sales records, interviewing your employees or even calling the customer back for more information.

6. Offer a Solution and Execute It

Making a complaint and being ignored is one way to lose a customer and garner bad reviews and comments online. Once you have a grasp of the issue, come up with a fair and reasonable solution. Is it a money refund? A new product? A discounted service?

If you're not sure what the customer wants from you once they’ve aired their grievance, or if they push back on your proposed solution, give them the power to resolve things and to identify what would make them happy.

For instance, you could say, "If my solution doesn't work for you, I'd love to hear how we can resolve the problem and make you happy. If it's in my power I'll get it done. If not possible, we can work on a solution together."

7. Follow Up

Make a quick follow-up phone call after the issue has been resolved and to make sure everything is OK and the customer is happy. Even a simple apology can turn this interaction from a negative to a positive. The cost could be minimal—like an upgrade on services or a gift certificate. A gesture like this could result in future sales, a referral, or a positive word-of-mouth recommendation. To assure a smooth customer experience, work with your team to actively put policies in place to avoid similar situations.

Additional Resources

Here’s an article with examples of great customer service from Zappos, Starbucks, Southwest Airlines, and other corporations. You’ll learn how these big brands can turn problems into positives: 6 Best Examples of Good Customer Service.

This blog post goes into more detail about why top-notch customer service is a must: 9 Reasons Why Customer Service is So Important. Good customer service can increase brand awareness, increase sales, and more.

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