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5 Steps for handling customer complaints

5 Steps for handling customer complaints

Written by:
Thomas Schipperen
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Date created
July 18, 2019
Last updated:
June 20, 2024
5 min read
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Key takeaways

This article was originally written and published by Speak First

No matter how hard-working and conscientious you are, at some point you’re probably going to be on the receiving end of a complaint from a customer or a client. Maybe you work in retail and customers regularly come up to complain about things, or maybe you have more of a corporate sales job and these complaints are rare, but the way you want to handle them is very similar.

How you deal with complaints and feedback is a hugely important part of your customers’ experience, and you want to make sure that your customers and clients end up feeling that their issue has been recognized, fixed and that they’re personally valued and appreciated. As long as you remain calm, professional and address it quickly, a customer’s complaint may actually improve their view of you and your company.

To help with this, we’ve set out the five steps you can take when handling customer complaints.

1. Recognize it

The first step always has to be recognizing that a mistake has been made. At this stage, it doesn’t matter how big or small the issue is, or who’s to blame, but you do need to be aware that something has gone wrong. Without this acceptance, you’re unlikely to correct it.

It’s important to note that the thing you recognize as a mistake might not be the same thing that the customer is complaining about. For example, if your customer complains about the time you took to complete work for them, they might say your mistake was working too slowly on their project. However, you might recognize that the real mistake was setting unrealistic expectations with the customer.

2. Admit it

Never tell the customer they’re wrong to make a complaint. It’s never nice being told you made a mistake, and it’s often even harder actually admitting to it, but you do have to acknowledge to the customer that something has gone wrong. If the customer is particularly upset, this can help calm them down by at least letting them know that you understand the problem from their point of view. Trying to deny or hide it, or passing the blame on, is only going to make it seem like you’re trying to cover yourself, which could exacerbate the issue further.

3. Apologize without delay

Don’t wait to apologize. Once you’ve recognized and admitted that something has gone wrong, the logical next step is to say sorry to the customer straight away.

It might be tempting to wait until you’ve had a chance to look into the issue to find out exactly what happened and what went wrong – and you might still want to do that – but don’t do this before apologizing. If it feels necessary, once you know more information you could expand upon the initial apology, but recognising and admitting to a customer’s complaint without apologizing for it is going to make them even more unhappy.

4. Fix it

Ultimately, a customer comes to you with a complaint because they want something fixed. Maybe the quality of your work wasn’t as good as they wanted, so they complained hoping you’ll improve it. Maybe a member of your staff spoke rudely to them, and they complained so you can stop that type of behavior from happening again or even allocate them someone else to manage the relationship. Customer complaints are rarely just for the sake of moaning with no practical fix in mind, and even that type of complaint has the ultimate goal of letting them feel better by venting their anger and frustration.

So, when dealing with complaints, you can see them as a great opportunity. Listen to the complaint as feedback on your company, your staff, your product, your processes etc. and see what can be improved.

Make sure you let the customer know what you’re going to do to fix the issue. If it’s as simple as refunding their purchase, it can be done straight away, but some things – such as procedural changes – can take time. In this case, offer to keep the customer informed so they know you’ve taken their comments onboard. Ideally, aim for them to be able to tell other people how well you listened to, and dealt with, their complaints. Often the customer is so delighted with the way you’ve handled it that they become an advocate.

5. Do something extra

Your customer was upset enough that they were willing spend their time and energy to actively complain to you. Recognizing the issue, apologizing and doing your best to fix it is the bare minimum that they expected from you. In theory, this should be enough to solve the issue and move on, but you want to make sure your customer leaves feeling appreciated and special, rather than merely a piece of feedback or a statistic in your end of year reports. If you can, offer them something extra. Perhaps a discount on their next purchase or a free gift can help them feel happier and genuinely valued.

At Lepaya, we help organizations retain top talent by creating a culture of continuous learning. We build stronger teams and inspire future leaders by offering innovative learning experiences through our Power Skills training.


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