Customer Experience News & Trends

Turn customer complaints into great experiences: 6 expert tips

You don’t have to take customer complaints like taking one to the chin. Instead, take them as a way to boost customer service.

In most cases, one complaint actually represents many more that other customers aren’t bothering to bring to you — and those silent customers are at a huge risk of leaving without you ever having the chance to make things right.

“You have two choices,” says Ron Kaufman, author of Uplifting Service: The Proven Path to Delighting Your Customers, Colleagues and Everyone Else You Meet. “One, treat the complaining customer like he’s a pain in the neck. Or, two, appreciate each complaining customer and use the complaint as an opportunity to improve.”

From bad to good

Front-line service pros want to treat every complaint and the customer behind it with a sense of immediacy and importance. That can immediately turn a potentially bad situation into a good experience.

From there, Kaufman suggests handling complaints like this:

  • Appreciate the complaint. Positively recognize customers who complain by saying, “Thank you for reaching out” or “Thank you for bringing this to my attention.”
  • Acknowledge what’s important. When customers complain, listen for what’s important to them — the thing that they value most and feel was denied them. For instance, they may complain about a broken part but what’s really bothering them is the time it takes to deal with getting it fixed. Then you can say something like, “I can see how frustrating and time-consuming this has been for you.” This especially helps because you’ve just taken the customers’ side — at least on the feelings involved in the situation.
  • Explain your desire to improve. Let customers know you’re on their side now and going forward. When they bring legitimate complaints to you — and you’re already addressing the issue — explain it. For instance, “I’m sorry for how this affected you. I want to assure you we’re working on a solution right now. Our supply quality control managers have already started an internal investigation that will help us foresee damages before they can happen.”
  • Educate the customer. Some customers will be satisfied with this and want you to move on to the immediate solution. Others will want to know more. Ask if they want to hear more about what happened or would like to resolve the situation now.
  • Contain it. With customers calmed, it’s time to narrow the issue and resolve it. Ask customers what they’d like to see happen. Often, their expectation is within the bounds of what front-line service pros can do.
  • Apologize when you can’t act and recover. In a few cases, there is little or nothing a customer service pro can do about a complaint. Focus on the customer’s emotions, rather than the complaint or request in these instances. Say, “Unfortunately, it’s not something we can do. I understand you’re frustrated, and I apologize.” In those cases, tell customers that you’d like to give them a token of appreciation or gesture of goodwill, by offering something — a discount, freebie or voucher — for the inconvenience.

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