Customer service is the lifeblood of your business, no matter what industry you’re in. Some super-successful companies have built their empires based almost entirely on the back of stellar customer service.
Zappos.com is a prime example — Tony Hsieh, the former CEO of the company, wrote in his book "Delivering Happiness" that one of their reps once helped a customer order a pizza. Remember, this company sells shoes.
If you’re wondering how to improve customer service almost overnight, the answer is through complaint handling. Dealing with buyers’ problems gets to the core of customer service. After all, it’s easy to deal with happy customers — it's how you handle the difficult ones that defines your company’s character.
Here’s what you need to know about customer complaints and some simple steps you can take to deal with them in a way that builds your company’s brand.
3 most common types of customer complaints
Customer service complaints can be many and varied, but generally, they fall into one of three categories.
1. Inferior product or service
Not surprisingly, dissatisfaction with a product or service is a common cause of customer complaints. If your product doesn’t fulfill the expectations of your customers, or you make promises about a product that aren’t realized, you can expect customers to be unhappy.
Also, you will get complaints if a product or service doesn’t work, or it breaks after a few uses. Even if the product works well, if the service you provide is inadequate, this will also result in customer dissatisfaction.
2. Delivery issues
You can’t enjoy a product if you never receive it, so if a customer orders a product and it doesn’t arrive — or it arrives very late — they will be unhappy. A product may be delivered to the wrong address, or it may be left in the warehouse, or it may just not leave in a timely manner due to warehouse backlogs. Either way, the customer isn’t enjoying it, and is therefore unhappy, resulting in a request for a refund, a bad review, or both.
3. Indifferent customer service
Customer service is so important to a company, so it’s unwise to neglect this aspect of your business. If your customer service team conveys a lack of care or interest in your customers’ problems, this will reflect negatively on you as a company.
Customer reps who are confrontational or take a negative tone will also lead to unhappy buyers. A customer rep with poor technical skills may be unable to keep up with the work and result in a backlog, which will further alienate customers.
What types of situations cause customers to complain?
On a more granular level, the following four situations will cause customers to be dissatisfied with your company’s product or service.
1. Multiple calls to resolve a situation
A customer doesn’t want to deal with customer service at all — they just want to enjoy their product unencumbered. As a result, it’s best to solve the issue on the first call.
If a customer service rep isn’t able to deal with the issue on first contact and the buyer is passed around to multiple representatives or has to make multiple phone calls over time, you’ll be dealing with angry customers. The customer loses time, and your brand’s image takes a hit.
2. Excessive wait times
Everyone hates being put on hold, so it’s wise to limit hold time as much as possible. If a customer can’t reach a representative quickly or remains on hold too long, it results in unhappiness. Representatives should not take too long to address a situation, and they should have the skills and training to handle the issue expediently.
3. Product or service not available
From a customer’s standpoint, it’s frustrating when an advertised product or service is unavailable for purchase. This is caused by inaccurate information or the product selling out, which indicates a poor supply chain or staffing issues. The customer experience and your brand’s image deteriorates as a result.
4. Poor follow-up
Just because a customer rep thinks they've solved a customer’s issue on the first try, that’s not necessarily the case. The customer may still be experiencing issues and has just given up on trying to deal with your reps to solve it.
As a result, you should follow up promptly after a customer interaction to ensure a buyer’s expectations have been met. Representatives should have the proper training for processing tickets to ensure follow-up.
How to handle customer complaints quickly and successfully
When you get a customer complaint, teach your team to deal with it right away. Here are a few ways to ensure a successful interaction with the customer.
Sometimes, customers are ready for a fight — but don’t take the bait. Stay cool under fire and understand the customer may be irritable. Handle any hostility with grace (but don’t accept verbal abuse of your employees — instruct your team to refer those calls to you). Maintain the high ground and focus on using positive language.
Listen with empathy
Empathy in customer service will work wonders. By encouraging your team to put themselves in your customers’ shoes, reps will know what to do to solve a customer’s problem. Listen more than you speak and acknowledge the issue. Convey that you care about the issue and invest in a solution collectively.
Seek a win-win resolution
Customer care reps should always seek a win-win solution. Avoid creating an adversarial dynamic and don’t look at it as a zero-sum proposition where either you or the customer loses. What’s good for the customer is also good for the brand. So while the customer isn’t always right and you should maintain boundaries, make an extra effort to find common ground — this is one of the best customer retention strategies out there.
Create a manual
Your staff will have an easier time dealing with complaints if you have a customer complaints procedure or manual that lays out a variety of situations and then describes how your customer reps can solve them. Train your employees to use this manual and they will immediately know what to do in a situation and be able to respond more quickly as a result.
5 best practices for handling customer complaints
When putting together a new customer service strategy for your team, employ these five best practices to increase your chances of being successful.
1. Expect complaints
No matter how well your company is run, some customers will find fault in what you do. It’s just the cost of doing business. That doesn’t mean you should dismiss them — it’s always good practice to find common ground, but don’t overhaul your entire business for this small minority when the overwhelming majority of customers are positive about your performance.
Use complaints as an opportunity to learn and to improve how you train your staff, but be wary of using isolated complaints to draw broad conclusions about your organization.
2. Turn complaints into compliments
You know your team excels at customer communication when they can turn complaints into compliments — that’s the gold standard of customer service. A complaint resolved can turn a grouchy customer into a lifelong ambassador for your brand.
Focus on going above and beyond to not only solve the immediate problem but also to ensure that the customer is happy and feels made whole. This improves your business image and makes the staff more confident and happier in the jobs, which in turn improves employee retention.
3. Always say thank you
Saying thank you seems so simple and insignificant, but it means the world to customers. Thank customers for their honest feedback, and for their good-faith efforts to work with you to fix the issue.
Also, thank them for being patient, and for their patronage despite the difficult process. This again demonstrates empathy and establishes a personal connection between your company and the customer, which can go a long way toward customer retention.
4. Use software
If you’re not using customer service software, it’s time to start. Software has many features and tools that will make it easier to provide unparalleled customer service, and it will also be able to track metrics, such as average resolution time or customer satisfaction ratings, so you can identify how you’re performing and how you can improve.
The software will also make your team more organized, which will improve your effectiveness and how quickly you can address customer issues.
5. Be proactive
The best way to deal with customer complaints is to prevent them from ever happening. Be proactive and send out a customer satisfaction survey to identify areas where you could improve, and then set out to make those improvements. You’ll reduce the backlog of complaints coming into your business and allow your team to spend more time dealing with the complaints that do come in.
Set aside time to train your staff
Train your staff on how to respond to customer complaints, and you will reap the rewards over the long haul. Sure, you’ll have to sacrifice a few hours of work time every few months, but that will be more than worth it to ensure your customer service is sparkling.
Teach them how to deal with customers in an empathetic manner, how to use your software, how to handle specific complaints, and how your products and services work so they’ll be experts when a customer calls. With just a small commitment to improving your staff’s skills, your company will lay the foundation for future growth.