52 Ways to Handle Customer Complaints Like a Pro
Customer complaints are a guaranteed part of working in sales, but here are 52 tips for turning unhappy shoppers into loyal brand ambassadors.
Everyone who works in sales must plan for customer complaints. Even if you try to do everything right, offer great products and provide excellent customer service, you will inevitably receive complaints at some point.
Whether they center around issues that are beyond your control (such as shipping delays), an accidental mistake on the part of your team or anything in between, the way you address these problems can make or break your company reputation and customer retention.
That’s why we’ve packed this comprehensive guide full of strategies that can help you turn unhappy shoppers into loyal brand ambassadors. Here are 52 ways to handle customer complaints like a pro.
1. Respond Quickly
The first step in effective customer complaint management is to respond as quickly as possible. When customers are unhappy or have problems, making them wait too long for a reply will only worsen the situation. For instance, if the shopper is already frustrated, a long wait time could cause them to become even more upset. Then, when you do respond, it will be all the more difficult to appease that individual.
Avoid this issue by getting back to all customers expediently, even if you don’t have a solution for them yet. Send out a simple message thanking them for their inquiry, apologizing for the inconvenience and assuring them that you’re looking into the problem. This can go a long way toward making shoppers feel like a priority and letting them know that your team is dedicated to making things right.
2. Offer Live Chat
One great way to get back to customers quickly is to offer live chat. This enables you to address customer complaints immediately and in real-time.
Live chat also provides shoppers with peace of mind knowing that your team is available to help them whenever they need it. And rather than having emails stack up that require responses, you may be able to handle a large number of complaints on the spot, putting them to rest and keeping your business moving along successfully.
3. Use Auto-Responders as Triage
Even if you receive customer complaints during non-business hours, you can still reply immediately by setting up auto-responders. These are exactly what they sound like: automatic responses that let customers know that your business is closed for the day (or holiday, weekend, etc.), but that a member of your team will get back to them as soon as possible.
And the great news is, if you use a messaging software like Replyco, you can set up auto-responders for emails AND live chat. That way anyone who sends a complaint or question knows that their message has been received and when then can expect a human response. Just be sure to have an actual person get back to them soon after you re-open. Auto-responses are meant to be used as triage, not as a replacement for customer service or human interaction.
When you’re communicating with a customer who has a complaint, it is important to listen to them. Don’t think about your response while they’re speaking or allow yourself to be distracted by anything else. Simply pay attention to every word they’re saying so you can gain a full understanding of the issue. This is the best and most effective way for you to know how to provide a solution that truly repairs the situation.
5. Ask Questions
Once you’ve listened to the customer explain their complaint, ask follow-up questions to get a clearer picture of the problem. For instance, if a customer is having trouble completing the checkout process on your eCommerce site, you need to know exactly where the issue is occurring. This will enable you to determine whether the difficulty is arising due to user error or a bug that your development team needs to fix.
Just remember, if your questions do uncover user error, NEVER phrase your response in a way that blames the customer. We’ll have more on this in a later section.
6. Practice Patience
Practicing patience is a huge part of dealing with customer complaints. When a shopper is upset, they may want to vent. Or, if a customer’s issue is a particularly complex one, it may take them a while to explain it. Whatever the case may be, you need to show patience toward anyone with whom you are interacting.
7. Never Interrupt
On that same note, a big part of practicing patience is to never, ever interrupt your customer. Again, they may want to vent or they may take a bit of time to explain what they’re complaining about. Even if you think you know the solution before they’re done talking, let them finish. Interrupting anyone is rude, but interrupting a customer could be detrimental to your business. This could quickly escalate the situation and lead to the customer feeling attacked. It could also result in poor reviews. All of which can be avoided by simply letting your customer finish speaking before you reply.
8. Show Empathy
When we have a problem, we all want to feel as though others can empathize. It’s a natural human trait to want to feel understood and like others care about our problems. This is especially true for customers who lodge a complaint.
Showing empathy is as easy as saying things like, “I am so sorry for this inconvenience. I completely understand how frustrating it must be.” And once you convey to customers that you care about their inconvenience, let them know that you are dedicated to offering a solution that works for them.
9. React Appropriately to Customer Complaints
When you are confronted by a particularly angry customer, it is incredibly important not to let their demeanor affect yours. Don’t mirror a customer’s frustration in your voice or reaction. Instead, do your best to defuse the situation with courteous, helpful, knowledgeable customer service.
While this is sometimes easier said than done, it is crucial to any great customer complaint strategy. As a matter of fact, it can be the difference between escalating the interaction into an argument (something you never want to do) and turning the scenario around by making the previously upset customer happy.
10. Avoid Arguing
This brings us to our next point: avoid arguing. You should never, ever argue with a customer — no matter the situation or how confrontational they may be. The best thing you can do is continue to offer great customer service and agreeable solutions to their problems.
In most cases, once you’ve provided a viable solution, angry customers will calm down and become much easier to communicate with. However, there are rare instances in which callers may become abusive with you or your staff. We aren’t saying to endure abuse (cursing, name-calling, etc.). But there is a way to end even these conversations without arguing back.
If you’ve tried to offer an answer to a question or a solution to a problem, and a complaining customer is being truly abusive, most companies instruct their staff to simply end the conversation. You can do this by calmly saying something like, “Sir / Ma’am, I’m going to have to ask you to refrain from cursing at me or I will have to end this conversation.” If the customer continues to be aggressive, simply hang up. But again, never argue back.
11. Reply in a Relatable, Human Way
This point goes back to our empathy section. Again, your customers want to feel understood. You can show them that you care about their problems (and about fixing them) by replying in a relatable, human way. For example, rather than robotically reciting the solution to a particular problem you receive frequent questions about (such as shipping delays), be sure to keep your voice friendly and conversational. No one wants to feel like just another “number.”
12. Be Honest
It is also important to tell the truth when dealing with customer complaints. First of all, if you lie about the reason for a problem, your customer might find the truth on their own. This can really harm your company’s reputation. But secondly, being honest with your customers from the start fosters a sense of trust. It also shows humility and good character. These are all qualities you want to convey to the public.
A customer is much more likely to forgive an honest mistake than they are to overlook a blatant lie. They will probably even respect you more, and may return to your store because they trust you as a seller.
13. Convey Transparency
Transparency runs along the same lines as honesty. But, while honesty is about telling the truth, transparency is about being open and not keeping secrets. A great example of conveying transparency in the face of customer complaints is when customers are complaining about rising prices.
If you’ve had to raise prices on certain items due to the manufacturing costs having increased, just tell your customers. This may help them to better understand and respect the reason for the jump. They might also be more likely to continue to buy that product, because you were transparent about its cost fluctuations.
14. NEVER Blame the Customer
When you’re having a conversation with a customer who has a complaint, never blame them for the issue. As we mentioned before, even if the problem is due to user error, it is absolutely paramount that you avoid sounding like you’re blaming the customer.
Instead, use an understanding and helpful tone to explain how to correct the problem (for instance, by providing site navigation instructions).
15. Avoid Being Judgmental
You also need to avoid being or sounding judgmental when interacting with a complaining customer. This one is actually easy for customer service representatives to forget. That’s because, when you work for a company, you are immersed in the workings of that company on a daily basis. But remember, your customers aren’t. What may seem simple to you (how to complete checkout; how to find certain items…) might not be so simple for your shoppers.
Be gentle with your customers. Address each and every issue, from the simplest ones to the most complex, with the same amount of urgency and helpfulness.
16. Make the Customer Your Top Priority
This one seems obvious, but it’s important to mention. Always make your customers your top priority. That goes double when you’re dealing with customer complaints.
No matter how busy you are, focus solely on the person and situation at-hand when you are interacting with a customer. Let them know that they are your number one priority and that you are dedicated to working with them to find a solution to their problem.
Here’s another simple but crucial component of your customer complaint strategy. When you or your company are in the wrong, apologize!
For some reason, we as humans are naturally averse to saying, “I’m sorry.” But oftentimes, that is exactly what is needed in order to rectify the problem. And just like we discussed in the honesty section, your customers will be much more likely to forgive you and even respect your company if you own up to mistakes and apologize for them.
18. Accept Responsibility
Accepting responsibility is similar to apologizing, but it often goes a step further. In addition to saying, “We’re sorry,” accepting responsibility also involves admitting fault and being willing to do what it takes to make amends.
A good example of this would be when someone receives their shipment but it is missing an item that they paid for. Apologizing would involve saying you’re sorry about the missing item. Accepting responsibility would mean admitting that it was a mistake on the part of your company and agreeing to send out a replacement free of charge.
19. Project Gratitude
We know what you’re thinking. “Are they seriously telling me to be thankful when someone complains?” Yes. Yes, we are.
Of course, that’s not to say you should jump for joy when someone makes a complaint. But you should appreciate the opportunity to rectify the issue and retain the customer. After all, studies show that many shoppers will simply abandon their cart or discontinue doing business with a company when there’s a problem, rather than complaining. So, show your gratitude to the customers who do contact you with issues, and go the extra mile to make things right.
20. Try to Keep the Tone Positive
We’ve touched on this already, but it bears repeating. When you’re interacting with any customer, especially one who is complaining, keep the tone of the conversation positive. Convey a friendly demeanor and use helpful language. One great way to do this is to focus more heavily on the solution to the issue rather than the negative impact of the problem itself (while still acknowledging a customer’s inconvenience and frustration, of course).
21. Research the Issue
Before providing a solution to a complex customer complaint, make sure to do your research. This will enable you to get things right the first time, rather than offering an incorrect “fix” and making the situation even worse.
For example, if a customer is complaining about slow shipping times, don’t just promise that their items will be there “soon.” See if you can track exactly where their package is in the shipment process and when delivery is expected.
22. Provide Useful Solutions
Here’s another one that is obvious, yet critical. If you’re going to offer solutions to customer complaints, make them useful, effective ones. In other words, don’t just apply a bandaid. Really repair the situation.
For instance, when a customer is complaining about a laptop they ordered not functioning correctly, don’t just offer them another item and hope that it suits their needs. Discuss things like what they use a laptop for (work, gaming, etc.) and desired technical specs. Then use your product knowledge to make suggestions that might work best for them.
23. Address Customer Complaints Efficiently
In the same way that it is important to provide a quick initial response, it is also important to address the actual complaints efficiently. After all, when a customer has a problem, they want a solution fast.
While you need to take your time and make sure you get it right, you also need to be expedient in taking care of a customer’s problem.
24. When Possible, Keep It Simple
You should also keep things simple whenever possible. Sometimes, there’s no need to overcomplicate things. For example, did a customer order a blue shirt and incorrectly receive a yellow shirt in their shipment? That’s an easy fix. Apologize for the mistake, accept responsibility for it and send them the correct item (free of charge).
25. Ask for Time
On the flipside of providing quick and simple solutions is taking your time. Sometimes customer complaints are more complicated than others. These instances may require you to conduct a bit of research or legwork, or even consult with your manager or other departments / vendors (such as your warehouse team or external shipping couriers).
In these cases, let your customer know that you want to make sure to provide the best possible solution to their problem. Ask for time to properly address and repair the issue, while communicating frequently with the customer about the status of their complaint. Most customers will appreciate your willingness to go the extra mile to make sure they’re satisfied, and will be willing to wait for a truly effective and comprehensive resolution.
26. Be Willing to Try Again
No matter how you try, you may not always be able to get things right the first time. And that’s okay. When dealing with customer complaints, be willing to try again (sometimes many times) until you reach a result that genuinely repairs the problem.
Again, we aren’t saying to take abuse from customers. But oftentimes, multiple solution attempts are necessary before reaching the desired result. By showing your willingness to keep at it until the shopper is satisfied, you are conveying true dedication to customer satisfaction. This focus on customer happiness will surely be rewarded with improved retention, brand loyalty, great reviews and plenty of other positive outcomes.
27. Understand Each Customer
Every customer is different and it’s important to understand each one. This goes back to actively listening to your customers and paying attention to their demeanor. For instance, an extremely friendly or talkative shopper may require a more chatty, laid back demeanor for best results. Whereas a customer who’s in a hurry and a bit frustrated is going to want a quick, efficient solution to their problem.
28. Tailor Your Solution to the Customer’s Needs
In addition to a customer’s demeanor, you also need to tailor your response and any solutions you offer to their needs. We’ll use the laptop example again. If a customer is complaining that the laptop they bought from you isn’t working properly, you might not want to just offer a like-replacement. They may need a different machine altogether.
Find out what they use the laptop for. A gamer may need a different item suggestion than a lawyer who does a lot of work from home. By tailoring the solution to your customer’s needs, you are increasing the odds that they will be satisfied and will return to your store in the future.
29. Bring in Other Staff Members
Sometimes, you might not be able to fix a customer’s problem on your own. Are they asking extremely technical questions that would be better suited for your development team? Or are you a customer service representative who is unsure if you are even allowed to provide the solution they seek?
It is a good idea to bring in other staff members or a manager when the situation calls for it. This enables you to make sure you’re providing the most comprehensive and correct response to the customer’s complaint.
30. Throw in Extra Incentives
There are also times when simple solutions (such as a refund or replacement item) aren’t enough to fully rectify a situation. This is especially true when a customer has been particularly or repeatedly inconvenienced.
A great move in these instances is to throw in some extra incentives to apologize, make things right and show your appreciation. Whether that’s free shipping on the shopper’s next order or a totally free item, nothing says, “We’re sorry,” like extra perks.
31. Get Creative
You may also have to get creative when dealing with customer complaints. Sure, some problems have very obvious solutions (such as when a shopper receives an incorrect item), but others may require some finesse.
For example, what if a customer says your apparel sizing chart is incorrect and a shirt they ordered doesn’t fit them properly? You may need to ask some questions about measurements, desired fit and items from other brands that fit them the way they like. You can then use your product knowledge to offer potential replacements that might truly fit their sizing needs more correctly. In this scenario, it would also be a good idea to check in with your content / web development team to check the sizing chart and make adjustments if necessary.
32. Offer Information & Education
A lot of customer complaints arise from a lack of information. For instance, many eCommerce complaints have to do with website navigation issues or a misunderstanding of how certain products work.
You can often repair these problems by offering customers more adequate information and education. Point them to help docs or FAQ pages that answer commonly asked questions. Explain how to navigate your website for the best results. Walk them through product usage (or software usage, if you’re a software company). Just be sure to do so in a way that doesn’t come off as placing blame on the customer, but rather helpfully providing them with the info they need.
33. Don’t Take Anything Personally
Remember, when a customer is complaining, they aren’t mad at you as an individual. They are simply frustrated by whatever problem they are having. Try not to take anything they say personally. Instead, do everything you can to be helpful and professional while offering a workable solution to the situation.
34. Cut Yourself Some Slack
Also, cut yourself some slack. Unfortunately, there are going to be times when a particularly uncooperative customer is impossible to please.
These cases are extremely rare, and it is important to do everything you can to rectify the situation when you receive a customer complaint. However, once you’ve gone the extra mile, provided workable solutions within your company policies, called in extra staff to help (if necessary), been completely honest with the customer, apologized, offered additional solutions, etc., and nothing is working — you need to remember that you’ve done your best.
Don’t beat yourself up over one customer who is still angry if you and your team have truly tried your hardest to help them. Just move on and continue giving your all in each and every interaction you encounter.
35. Cut Your Employees Some Slack
And if you’re a company owner or manager, remember to also cut your employees the same slack. We aren’t saying not to require that your customer service reps do everything in their power to satisfy every single customer. On the contrary, you should absolutely require this.
However, as stated above, if a situation truly becomes impossible to rectify, be kind to your employees who are in the trenches dealing with complaints. As long as they have done everything possible to offer a solution, understand that there are (very rare) times when situations cannot be resolved. Don’t dwell on them, but rather learn from them and move forward.
36. Don’t Let Frustration Carry Over
When you’ve just finished dealing with a difficult customer complaint, don’t let your frustrations carry over to your next conversation. Be sure to approach each and every interaction with a fresh, friendly, helpful demeanor. This will not only help you to achieve customer satisfaction, it will also help to keep up your own morale.
37. Follow Up
After having helped a customer with a complaint, it is important to follow up with them later. This can be as simple as an email to check in and make sure they are still satisfied with the help they received. Within the email, be sure to thank them for reaching out and for being a valued customer, and invite them to share feedback about their experience with your team.
38. Reward Brand Loyalty
It is always a good policy to reward brand loyalty, but it is especially crucial to reward customers who have had a problem with your company and still return to shop again. Keep track of any customers who have lodged complaints. Send them offers for things like free shipping or store discounts if they return to your store. And thank them for being valued, loyal customers!
39. Remain Aware of ALL Complaints
Here’s a big one: if you want to address all complaints, you need to remain aware of them. And that’s not as easy as it sounds. Sure, many customers will call or email to lodge an official complaint. But what about the ones who simply take to social media to vent about a negative experience with your store?
Follow mentions of your company name online, such as on website forums or social media channels, to make sure you know everything that’s being said about you. If you find a tweet complaining about your shop, respond to it. Let that person know that you would appreciate the opportunity to make things right, and that your company is dedicated to customer satisfaction. Not only does this help you to address every complaint, it also protects and improves your public reputation.
40. Keep Records of Interactions & Solutions
Whenever you receive a complaint, you need to keep records of it. Document the conversation. Note the solution offered and the customer’s reaction to it. Keep track of everything you can.
Firstly, this will allow you and your team to learn from each experience and make adjustments to your business, products, policies, etc., as necessary. Secondly, these notes can prepare you if the same customer lodges another complaint, or when a different shopper makes a complaint that is similar in nature.
41. Let Past Experience Inform Your Response
And now that you have extensive notes and records of all customer complaints, you can let past experience inform your response in the future. For example, have you been receiving a lot of complaints about the same thing? You may need to make changes to that area of your business.
Or, if your customers are reacting especially well to a specific solution, you can deduce that the solution is a good one to use in future scenarios.
42. Ensure Consistency
When it comes to customer complaint strategy, consistency is a major key to success. Make sure your entire team is using best practices to address issues and provide solutions to customers.
You can do this by enacting company-wide guidelines and holding team meetings / training sessions to keep everyone on the same page. And be sure to keep an open-door policy by letting your employees know that they can come to you with any questions or concerns they may have.
43. Maintain Product / Company Knowledge
If you’re going to offer assistance for customer complaints, you need to fully understand the products you sell along with your company policies. This comprehensive knowledge will enable you to answer questions more quickly and provide more adequate and effective resolutions to any problems that arise, without making as many mistakes in the process.
44. Use Customer Complaints to Your Advantage
And as we mentioned earlier in the “show gratitude” section, plenty of customers won’t even complain when they have a problem. Instead, they will simply abandon their purchases and switch brands.
That’s why you need to use the customer complaints that you do receive to your advantage. By viewing them as opportunities to make changes to your business that may lead to long-term success, you can avoid future complaints and even increase sales and ROI.
45. Showcase Improvements
Of course, once you’ve used customer complaints to make improvements to your company, you should show those upgrades off! Make announcements via your website, social media, press releases and other mediums about any new features or improvements that you add to your business.
46. Communicate with Your Suppliers & Couriers
In order to prepare for potential complaints, or even avoid them altogether, you need to communicate with your suppliers, couriers and other vendors. This way, you can remain aware of and plan for everything from potential product shortages to shipping delays.
By proactively communicating with customers about these issues, you may be able to avoid a large number of complaints. And you will also be armed with the knowledge you need to answer any questions you do receive.
47. Create Hypothetical Scenarios to Practice Responding
When training your staff to handle customer complaints, you can improve team skills significantly by practicing for various scenarios ahead of time. Create a wide range of potential complaints and let your employees rehearse how to deal with them. This will make them more confident when it’s time to respond to real customers.
48. Anticipate Complaints that Might Arise from New Changes
If you’re making changes to your store that might make customers unhappy, you’ll want to anticipate the complaints that might arise. For example, if you need to raise prices due to higher manufacturer costs, there’s a good chance customers might complain. Be prepared to provide them with an honest response as to why the prices are now higher and apologize for the inconvenience.
49. Plan Ahead
You should also plan ahead for a higher number of customer complaints when you know busy times or unexpected delays are coming. For example, it is inevitable that you will receive more complaints and questions during the holiday season. Likewise, eCommerce sellers have seen a dramatic increase in shipping delays and complaints amid COVID.
If you know times like these are coming, get your team ready. Make sure you are adequately staffed to deal with the influx, and that you have responses and solutions ready for common issues.
50. Improve Company Morale
When your team is handling lots of customer complaints, it can take a serious toll on company morale.
Let your workers know what a great job they’re doing and how much they’re appreciated. This may include simple recognition, office parties, awards, bonuses and any number of other ways to show your appreciation.
It is also important to keep from overloading any one person too much. Make sure the workload is properly allocated amongst your team members, and ensure everyone is getting the days off and breaks that they need.
51. Reduce the Likelihood of Customer Complaints
There are a myriad of steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of customer complaints in the first place. From offering great customer service to selling high quality products to making help docs and FAQs easily accessible on your website, there’s a lot you can do to keep shoppers happy from the get go.
52. Don’t Let Any Complaints Fall Through the Cracks
Finally, don’t ever let complaints fall through the cracks. If a customer takes the time to send you a message, you need to make sure a member of your team actually reads and responds to it.
We know it can be incredibly difficult to keep up with customer messaging, especially when you sell on multiple channels. But Replyco has your back. If you’d like to learn more about how we help eCommerce sellers centralize all their messages into one inbox, feel free to take a tour of our features any time. Or get started today with your free trial (no credit card required).
And as always, don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions you may have. Happy selling!