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Turn Those Frowns Upside Down: How to Handle Customer Complaints

Complaints are an inevitable part of business, no matter how hard you work to make the perfect customer experience. Whether someone didn’t read the product description closely enough before making a purchase or you just hired the wrong person for a job, even great businesses get their share of customer complaints. But what makes your business truly great isn’t whether or not you get complaints, but how you handle them. Here are our best tips for how to handle customer complaints effectively for better customer relationships. 

Dealing With Upset Customers

More often than not, a customers will be upset when giving complaints, but it doesn’t have to escalate from there. More than just resolving an issue, you need to be prepared to turn an upset customer into a happy one. Here are a few tips for how to respond to customer complaints for smooth resolutions to the most volatile of problems. 

  • Be Patient: If a customer is upset, they might not explain everything in the most linear fashion. If you want things to end with smiles all around, let customers take all the time they need to explain their concerns.
  • Keep a Record: Even if you think you’ve completely resolved an issue, keep notes in case the customer comes back later. Nobody likes to repeat information over and over, and good notes will allow your employees to quickly understand resolve any recurring issues. Records can also help you detect patterns in complaints going forward.
  • Be Straightforward: Don’t beat around the bush if you can’t give them what they want. Tell them exactly what you can do, and what the next steps are to resolve their issue. If you let dealing with upset customers turn into a game of walking on eggshells, you’re not helping anyone.
  • Don’t Apologize, Empathize: Apologies can often sound like you’re accepting blame, or even like you’re making excuses. Skip the apologies where possible and instead be empathetic and solution-focused with phrases like “That’s no good, let’s get that fixed” or “That’s quite a day you’re having, let’s see if we can make it better.”
  • Don’t Retaliate: Upset customers can sometimes be volatile, even to the point of swearing and frightening behavior. Retaliation will only escalate the situation, so remain calm and empathetic. If they become violent, step back, call the cops, and do not engage.

Looking for more ways to improve customer relations? Check out our other blog post on how to get good reviews on Yelp

Streamline Your Customer Complaint Response

Customers with complaints are not known for their patience, so it’s important to do what you can to streamline your process for resolving customer complaints. When you have your process hammered out, customers should be able to come to you for a quick and simple solution for most of their problems. Here are some tips to get you started: 

  • Have Solutions Planned: If you try and resolve problems on the fly with every customer, you’re going to have very inconsistent customer complaint responses and take longer to resolve problems. Instead, plan ahead and make policies for how to handle returns, refund requests, damage claims, and other common issues.
  • Have a Complaints Department: Sometimes you do need to make a quick decision for how to help a customer, and it’s best if the person handling complaints has the authority to make those decisions. Assign someone or a department to handle customer complaints so they can quickly and effectively create solutions.
  • Be Accessible: Do you have a phone and email available on your site for customers to reach you? If you don’t have an easily available avenue for complaints, customers will create their own on social media and review sites. If they can talk to you first and get their problem resolved, you can avoid a lot of bad reviews online.
  • Make Your Process Transparent: Don’t blindside your customers with strict return policies and limited warranties. Once you have a process for how to handle common problems and concerns, make it visible on your site so customers don’t come to you expecting one thing and getting another.

Want more tips for creating a top-notch customer service system? Check out our other blog post on Customer Service Tips for Small Businesses

How to Use Customer Complaints to Improve Your Business

Customer complaints are more than just negative noise; they’re important feedback that can give you great insights into your business. If you want to get the most out of that feedback, here are a few tips for how to respond to customer complaints: 

  • Look for Trends: If you notice a pattern in the complaints you get, then that’s something that needs to be addressed. Whether they feel your shipping is too slow or your packaging too difficult, customer feedback helps you learn what to prioritize.
  • Reach Out for Feedback: For every customer that complains, you can expect ten others just held their tongue. Catch problems before they become bad business habits by asking your customers for feedback on their experiences.
  • Keep Your Ego Out of It: If you start taking criticism personally, you’ll likely blind yourself to real problems that need addressing. The best approach for resolving customer complaints cannot include your personal feelings getting in the way.
  • Show Gratitude: When a customer is expressing a concern, show gratitude that they felt comfortable reaching out for a solution. Doing so not only helps you keep the complaints in perspective, but also encourages future customer communication.
  • Do Regular Business Audits: Not all complaints can be avoided, but many can if you conduct regular audits. Approach your business from the perspective of a customer so you can proactively find problems and fix them.

What to Do With Erroneous Complaints

  • Never Assume: It doesn’t matter how silly a complaint seems; you should never assume that customers are being fraudulent with their claims. Keep an open mind and really listen, because what seems silly at first might be a serious issue to the customer.
  • Be Firm but Polite: If they are asking for something you can’t give, don’t sugarcoat. Don’t give them false hope that they’ll get what they want if they just ask the right way. Instead, tell them your policy, be clear it can’t be changed, and offer alternative solutions instead.
  • Don’t Make it Personal: When customers come with false claims, it may feel like they are trying to steal from you in a very personal way. Unless they actually know you as a person outside of your business, customers are just trying to get what they think is a good deal. Don’t retaliate, and don’t take it to heart.
  • Follow Your Process: Once you have your policies in place, don’t change them on the spot for a specific customer. Even if they have found a loophole to take advantage of your policy beyond what you intended, you should only change your policies if you’re going to change it for everyone, and not in the middle of a complaint resolution. Otherwise, you open yourself to legal retaliation.

Customers are more than just a revenue source; they are the people investing in your business. That means that their feedback is a valuable resource that should not be ignored, especially when that feedback is negative. Learn how to handle customer complaints with an open mind and open ears so you can create a lasting relationship with your customers and grow your business with them in mind. 

Katie Yelisetti

From marketing tips to product recommendations, I’m here to help small businesses be their best.

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Katie Yelisetti

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