Customer complaints: 10 tips to manage them better

The very term customer complaints conjures negative feelings. How can a complaint be seen as anything other than a bad thing?

Yet no matter how hard you work to deliver high-quality products and amazing customer service, unhappy customers are inevitable. No business can skirt the reality of customer complaints completely. But for companies that handle customer complaints particularly well, they can actually become more of an opportunity than a liability.

Why caring about every customer complaint is worth it

If there ever was a time when a company could get away with ignoring negative feedback (and it’s doubtful that period ever existed), the Internet has made that impossible. Research is clear that people trust word-of-mouth more than they do any information that comes directly from brands. 83 percent say they trust friends and family, which is unsurprising, but 66 percent say they also trust opinions strangers post online. And 55 percent of consumers complain on social media when they have a problem with a company.

It’s clear: one angry customer’s complaint can be amplified and influence the opinions of many others. On the plus side, most customers care less about whatever situation caused their initial complaint than how a company handles it. They’re not complaining to make you look bad—they want you to respond with a solution.

And if you do, they’ll like you more for it afterward. Harvard Business Review found that people who complained on social media and received a response were more loyal afterward than those who never complained at all.

10 tips to handle customer complaints better

There are two levels to handling to a customer’s complaint effectively. Your agents have to handle responding to the situation directly, but the company has to provide the right tools and policies to equip the customer support team to do their job well. Success requires taking a few key steps at both levels.

A good strategy for resolving customer complaints has to be top down. Every company that cares about creating loyal customers should prioritize these first five tips.

1. Hire good customer service agents.

The most important factor in solving a customer’s problem is making sure the customer service agent they work with knows what they’re doing. So much of success starts with hiring the right people.

Take time to find people that not only have the skills you’re looking for, but that demonstrate empathy and a willingness to learn. And once you’ve found the right employee, make sure you keep them by providing a positive work environment. Some of these other steps will help that part.

2. Provide thorough training.

Even the most competent agent won’t wake up understanding your products and customers on their first day. To equip them with the knowledge they need to solve customer problems, implement a strong training program. Make sure they know all the basics before their first customer service interaction, and where to find the answers for everything else.

3. Make answers to common complaints easy to find.

Speed is an important factor in whether customers are satisfied with a customer support interaction. When agents know how to find the answer they need right away, it speeds up resolution time. A well-organized, searchable knowledge base makes the agent’s job easier and empowers them to resolve customer disputes faster.

4. Make sure relevant details move with the customer across channels.

The era of omnichannel support has made providing an integrated customer experience across channels more complicated. But customers don’t care what challenges you have on your end—if they have to repeat their complaint three different times in three different channels, they aren’t likely to come away from the experience feeling better about your brand.

Agents need a way to pull up all the relevant details about a customer and their current grievance the moment they start communicating with them. Equip your team with an integrated support tool that provides one centralized location for all customer information.

5. Track the customer complaints that come in frequently.

Individual customer complaints don’t exist in a vacuum. When one customer struggles with an issue, chances are, others have been in the same situation. To improve the customer experience as a whole, create a system for tracking all the tickets that come in so you can see trends in customer feedback. Then use that information to improve your products and services.

Once your agents have the proper tools and processes in place, it’s up to them to deliver the best response to solve the customer’s problem. The next five tips can help your agents manage angry customers better.

6. Understand the different types of customers.

Your customers aren’t a monolith, and even irate customers don’t all want the same thing from a customer service interaction. The right response will depend on the customer and their specific situation.

Some want a refund, others are looking more for an apology or to hear someone acknowledge their complaint. Agents will benefit from learning to recognize the different types of difficult customers, and the best ways of handling each.

7. Cultivate the right tone of voice.

Keeping a calm and moderate tone when dealing with a customer that’s being confrontational is difficult, but paramount. Agents must strive to defuse the situation with measured responses, while remaining human—sounding like an emotionless robot won’t help things. It’s a tricky balance to find, but one that makes a difference.

8. Listen before you respond.

When someone’s upset, one of the main things they want is to feel heard. Don’t try to solve a problem before you’ve taken the time to understand it. Start by listening, then repeat it back to them to confirm you understand. For the complainer, having someone take the time to hear what they’re saying, acknowledge that the grievance is legitimate, and apologize is often as meaningful as getting a refund or special offer.

9. Communicate expectations.

Explain to customers upfront how long they can expect a resolution to take or how much you’ll be able to do for them. People will often be understanding of any limitations on what an agent can offer, as long as a reasonable expectation is communicated upfront.

10. Provide the best possible solution.

Once you understand the problem at hand, determine the best path forward to resolve it. Whether it’s a matter of talking them through troubleshooting steps, sending a replacement product, or a genuine apology with the promise of refund or future discount—give them something to ensure they walk away feeling better about the brand.

A customer complaint seems bad on the surface, but it’s an opportunity to prove to the customer how much you care. By listening and providing the best solution possible every time, you can turn the experience around. Play your cards right, and today’s angry customer may become one of your most loyal ones tomorrow.