Customers are angry because no one listens to their complaints. And research shows they’re mostly right.
Just 14% of customer complaints are dealt with in the first contact, a recent study from W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University and Customer Care Measurement & Consulting found. It takes most customers about four contacts to get an issue resolved fully and to their satisfaction, researchers said.
When companies handle complaints well, customer anger drops.
Here are six strategies for curbing complaints and preventing customer rage:
1. Understand your first call resolution
Many companies overestimate how many issues are resolved on the first contact. Then they underestimate their customers’ frustrations. Issues aren’t fully resolved until the problem is fixed, customers are satisfied with the solution and they forget about it and move on. If they don’t, they’ll likely contact you again.
Consider adding a few “check offs” before service pros close out a contact. In addition to a check that a “situation is resolved,” add “customer is satisfied,” “no follow up needed” and “customer agrees that we’ve found the correct solution.” Taking the moment to confirm the answers — and fixing remaining issues, if necessary — can prevent second and third contacts.
2. Make the apology real
Three-quarters of customers want an apology when they complain, but just 28% say they get it, The Rage Study found.
Apologizing doesn’t mean you’re liable or responsible for what’s gone wrong. It means you’ll take responsibility for what will go right. Front-line employees want to show empathy — using a tone and words that show they understand how the customer feels — when customers explain a problem. It should be how they’d react if a friend relayed a dilemma.
3. Listen closer
When customers complain, more than 90% say what they want most is to be treated with dignity. They want someone to listen and care about what they say. About 40% say they get that kind of treatment.
The problem often is that the front-line customer service pro tries to jump to solution mode before hearing out customers. That leads to two issues that can spark rage: Customers don’t feel they were heard out and the solution doesn’t fit the problem because the employee never fully heard what’s wrong.
The key to better help is listening to customers until they’ve shared their story, then paraphrasing it to confirm the details before moving on to a solution.
4. Develop a common base
Most customer service operations share a huge database that includes account information, details on contacts, preferences and time lines for what’s happened and will happen. That’s great for customers if only service pros handle their complaints.
It’s not effective enough if other departments and employees are involved in complaint resolution — which is the case most of the time. Back office operations need access to the full customer database, plus an understanding of it all. That way, they can see the level of severity and/or timeliness in every situation and how they should react.
5. Know what customers expect
When customers complain, you can control the situation, and avoid rage, by giving them what they want. Here’s what they say they expect most:
- An assurance that the problem won’t be repeated (66%). Let them know how you get to the root cause and prevent future issues.
- That the company will put itself in their shoes (64%). That’s empathy — letting them know that you understand why they’re frustrated.
- An explanation of why the problem happened (62%). Tell them what you know about the current situation.
- Resolution or repair that fixes the situation (59%). Reassure them they’ve come to right place.
- To be talked to in everyday language, not with a script (50%). Talk to customers like friends.
6. Make it easy to complain
If customers have to look hard for an email address, social media handle or phone number — then they have to work their way through prompts — to get help, they’re anger will only rise.
Give them a special complaint line, email address or handle that is monitored constantly.