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How to Manage Customer Complaints

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Customer complaints happen to the best of us. No matter how well you rank in satisfaction surveys, one thing’s for sure: Complaints will emerge at one time or another.

Complaints are just an inevitable part of doing business. As tempting as it may be to disregard it as a one-time occurrence, according to the White House Office of Consumer Affairs, each customer who bothers to share their complaint with you represents 26 others who remain silent. That can create a massive roadblock in our quest to deliver strong customer experiences – but it doesn’t have to. When complaints are handled in a constructive manner, they can be fantastic opportunities for improvement.

The good news is, it’s easy when you have a solid response plan. But before we get started, let’s make one thing clear: There’s no room for evasion in this process. You must demonstrate a proactive, humble, and sincere response to make things right. Complaints may be inevitable, but a well-executed response to them can make the difference between regaining a customer’s confidence and losing them forever. Here are the concrete steps to managing the process.

unhappy customer

© Flickr user benjaflynn

1. Respond Quickly

Time is of the essence when handling customer complaints. An unsatisfied customer is likely an emotional one — and the negative emotions that can lead to lost business must be acknowledged as quickly as possible after a problem occurs. Reach out to the customer by contacting him or her as soon as you find out about the complaint.

2. Apologize

Try this: “I apologize that this has occurred.” The simplest way to address a complaint is to apologize that the problem happened in the first place. Especially in a stressful moment, it may be easier to avoid apologizing, but don’t beat around the bush. A simple, “I’m sorry” can be the best and easiest route to service recovery.

3. Acknowledge

Try this: “I know that this has caused an inconvenience…” An apology is just the start. To truly re-connect with your customer, you must acknowledge the difficulties you’ve caused them. It may be challenging but avoid the temptation to be defensive. A customer who complains is seeking not only resolution but an assurance that the problem won’t happen again. To let your customer know that you understand the gravity of the situation, acknowledge that you know this problem has made things more complicated for them.

4. Empathize

Try this: “…and I can understand why you’re unhappy.” A little empathy can go a long way in restoring any relationship. The best way to start mending a strained relationship with a customer is by demonstrating your compassion for their situation. By using words that validate the customer’s emotions, you can infuse a dose of humanity into your conversation.

5. Take Responsibility

Try this: “I will investigate this immediately.” You can go from potential adversary to trusted ally when you offer to be the customer’s representative. Assure them that as you strive to remedy the situation within your organization, you will keep their needs in mind. When you show your dedication to making the customer’s life better, you build the customer’s confidence in your organization’s ability to fix problems.

6. Check In and Keep the Customer Informed

Try this: “We are continuing to work on the issue.” Many problems cannot be resolved immediately. Demonstrate your commitment to customer satisfaction by staying in touch. Even if it takes some time to understand the situation behind the complaint, let your customer know you’re still working to make things right.

7. Solve the Problem

When you settle on a solution that resolves the customer’s negative experience and addresses any systemic issues that might have caused this situation (and others like it), then it’s time to close the loop. This may include a refund to the customer, a credit on their account, a letter of apology, or some other action that will help resolve the negative experience.

8. Thank the Customer

Try this: “We appreciate the opportunity you’ve given us to make it right.” As difficult as it may be to hear (and resolve) complaints, the value of this feedback cannot be overestimated. None of us like to receive customer complaints, but these perspectives can provide you with opportunities to fix problems that you may never have learned about otherwise. Be sure to acknowledge that your customer has done you a valuable service.

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Emily Tisdale
Emily D. Tisdale is the Founder and Principal Consultant of Recourse Resource Consulting, a healthcare experience consulting firm based out of Indianapolis, Indiana. Emily and her team supports healthcare organizations in achieving sustainable results focused on patient experience, employee engagement, and marketing.
Emily Tisdale


Biz Owner (Radius10, LLC + Recourse Resource) • Wife + Mom | Mixing life + work on this previously work-only account because, well, I want to👩🏻‍💻
At-home date night watching @KevinHart4real’s Zero F**cks Given and I. Am. Dying. 🤣 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼 - 7 months ago
Emily Tisdale
Emily Tisdale

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