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Customer complaints: Definition, examples, and resolution tips

Customer complaints aren’t ideal, but they can help improve your business. Here’s how to handle them in an impactful way.

Av Alaina Franklin, Director, Customer Success

Senast uppdaterad December 20, 2023

What are customer complaints?

Customer complaints are negative pieces of feedback consumers provide about a company’s product, service, or support experience. Customers can privately submit this type of feedback by completing a survey or emailing the support team. They can also publicly submit complaints via social media reviews, community forums, or online review sites.

Customer complaints are inevitable. Even in the most expertly run organization, there will always be a lapse in quality control, shipping, or simply an off day that leads a customer to complain. However, how organizations deal with these complaints separates good businesses from great ones.

Negative feedback can be an opportunity rather than a liability. If handled correctly, a complaint can strengthen your relationship with the customer and improve your operations.

In this article, we’ll detail common types of complaints and how to handle them to increase customer loyalty and improve the customer experience (CX).

More in this guide:

Types of customer complaints

Customers can become dissatisfied with a business for several reasons. Here are some of the most common types of complaints.

A bulleted list details the different types of customer complaints.

1. Long wait times

When an individual reaches out to your business, they may already be upset or concerned. According to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2023, 72 percent of consumers want immediate service. With this in mind, having customers wait for an extended period for assistance can make them even more agitated.

How to resolve: Long wait times could indicate that the call volume is too high for your customer service team to handle. Look at the peaks and valleys in demand and try to staff those periods accordingly. Additionally, implement features like callback options to ensure consumers get the help they need without being tied to the phone.

2. Automated phone loops

Automated phone options can transfer consumers to the right representative to solve the issue and ease demand on support teams. That said, poorly designed or overly complex automated systems can lead customers into frustrating loops. Consumers don’t want to feel trapped in an automated maze without any way to talk to a live representative.

How to resolve: Ensure your automated phone systems are user-friendly, with clear options for reaching live agents promptly. That way, customers can navigate these systems with an option for immediate, personalized customer service when needed.

3. Unsupportive agents

Support agents are often the first line of defense when dealing with dissatisfied customers or consumer complaints. When your agents don’t have the right customer service skills for the job, it can leave a bad impression on buyers.

According to our CX Trends Report, 3 in 4 individuals say a poor interaction with a business can ruin their day. Make sure your support agents are the solution to their problems, not the cause.

How to resolve: Hire empathetic support agents and prioritize ongoing training that empowers your representatives to address complaints effectively. Foster a customer-first mindset in your organization that helps agents turn negative conversations into positive resolutions.

4. Inconsistent information

Customers can feel frustrated when they have to repeat themselves to support agents. According to our CX Trends Report, 70 percent of customers expect anyone they interact with to have the full context of their situation. When agents don’t have this context, they can’t resolve issues as quickly, and customers can easily become upset.

How to resolve: Invest in comprehensive customer service software (like Zendesk) to help eliminate inconsistent information. The right CX tool can connect your agents with the context they need to effectively help a customer, so they don’t need to ask the customer to repeat information.

5. Inconvenient customer service hours

Consumers expect quick and convenient customer service. Your organization’s first reply time (FRT)—or how long it takes a support agent to respond to a consumer request—directly impacts customer sentiment. When you have inconvenient hours that lead to a longer FRT, customers can become frustrated.

How to resolve: AI chatbots and other automation are a great way to expand your customer service hours. When agents are off the clock, a bot can handle basic or repetitive consumer queries and create new tickets for agents to address when they’re back at their desks.

Additionally, global companies could try a follow-the-sun approach to customer service—a type of workflow in which customer issues can pass between offices in different time zones.

6. Lack of self-service options

Per our CX Trends Report, 4 in 10 support agents agree that consumers become angry when they cannot complete tasks on their own. Self-service resources—such as FAQ pages, informative articles, and community forums—can help consumers solve problems independently. Customers appreciate when they can troubleshoot problems without the need to speak to a support agent.

How to resolve: The first step to address this complaint is to build a knowledge base or online community. But don’t take a “set it and forget it” approach. These guides must be kept up to date, so ensure you have a plan for refreshing your online content.

7. Lack of omnichannel support

Today’s consumers can access your business from your website, social media pages, email, and more. Providing an omnichannel experience—one that fosters smooth, consistent communication across channels—is key to creating a positive CX.

If your organization offers support on only one channel, customers are likely to complain, especially if it’s a channel that’s inconvenient for them.

How to resolve: Offer direct support on various channels—like the phone, messaging apps, live chat, and email—and adopt an omnichannel customer service approach. This allows agents to easily switch between channels without losing customer context. For example, if someone reaches out to your support team over email but then wants to speak to an agent over the phone, an omnichannel approach ensures your team can continue the conversation seamlessly.

8. Poor product or service quality

Customers expect that the product they saw advertised on your website aligns with what they receive. According to Statista, 77 percent of consumers feel that a “great product or service” is crucial for brand loyalty. This means poor product or service quality can result in increased customer complaints and lost business.

How to resolve: When customers come to your business with complaints about your products or service, take note of their suggestions. Implementing their feedback can lead to important product improvements that reduce customer complaints and improve retention.

Learn about customer expectations with our CX Trends Report

Read about evolving customer expectations in the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2023 to stay one step ahead and prevent customer complaints.

How to handle customer complaints

Effectively handling customer complaints is paramount to maintaining a positive CX. From prevention to resolution, here are some ways you can address complaints successfully.

A bulleted list showing how a business can handle customer complaints.

Review key customer details

Customers who have to repeat themselves throughout the complaint process can become more frustrated during the interaction. Support your staff with integrated CX software that houses all customer information in one location. This allows agents to find the relevant details about each customer, including their current and past concerns, contact information, and purchase history.

Customer information matters because you won’t be able to effectively resolve complaints without having all the details handy. Ensure you’re up to speed with conversations the customer has had with other team members so they don’t need to repeat information. The more you know about the customer, the better you’ll be able to personalize the resolution, too.

Check common complaints

Customer complaints and pain points don’t exist in a vacuum. When one consumer struggles with an issue, it’s likely others have also experienced the same issue. Use CX software that tracks your tickets to spot patterns and make connections with customer feedback. For example, identifying a spike in support tickets after the release of a new feature can shine a light on product problems that need to be corrected.

Leverage the data to pinpoint areas of improvement and make adjustments to enhance the overall customer experience. Customers will appreciate your attention to detail and commitment to continuous improvement.

Understand the customer

There are several types of customers you’ll encounter, each with their own concerns and motivations. Some may want a refund, while others may be content with an apology and a plan for resolving the situation. The right response will depend on the type of customer:

  • Angry customers: Many customers with complaints will be upset, and you must know how to deal with angry customers. Prioritize empathetic communication and timely responses with these individuals.
  • Churned customers: Some buyers with complaints may just end the relationship with your business. Ask for customer feedback and offer reactivation incentives to help re-engage them.
  • Loyal customers: Even a consumer who’s been with your brand for a long time might have complaints every once in a while. Strive for personalized communication and exclusive rewards to resolve any issues.

It’s important to note that customers may fall into more than one category. Knowing which type of customer you’re dealing with can help you serve them better.

Cultivate the right tone of voice

Pouring gasoline on a fire will only make it burn hotter and brighter. Similarly, being reactive to upset customers can quickly degrade the situation into an unpleasant experience for all parties involved.

Agents must cultivate a professional customer service voice to diffuse situations with measured responses. Even though it’s challenging to stay calm and collected when dealing with an angry customer, support agents must always be empathetic, helpful, and knowledgeable—all while displaying proper call center etiquette.

Practice reflective listening

When a customer’s upset, they want to feel heard. You can promote this understanding by teaching your support agents to master reflective listening.

Reflective listening involves being present, repeating the customer complaint to confirm understanding, and asking the right follow-up questions for further context. Doing so can help support agents understand customer complaints fully and address them comprehensively.

Acknowledge frustrations

Customer complaints may be related to things beyond your immediate control, like an issue with a third-party shipping provider. But in some situations, your business can be in the wrong.

Taking responsibility for shortcomings and acknowledging consumer frustrations—even when dealing with difficult customers—demonstrates that your business values integrity. This can increase the customer’s confidence and diffuse the situation.

Set realistic expectations

Be upfront with customers in every aspect of your business, from product specifications to support hours. Doing so can foster consistency across your organization, help you set clear customer expectations, and reduce complaints.

It’s also important to communicate the expected timeline for resolution, the steps you’ll take, and anything else the customer needs to know. This transparency manages expectations and reduces further concerns or misunderstandings.

Present a solution

Once you’ve taken the time to understand your customer completely, propose a solution that directly addresses their concerns and aligns with their expectations. This can involve sending a replacement product, offering a refund, or apologizing when you can’t deliver what they hoped. A well-conceived solution demonstrates a commitment to customer satisfaction.

9. Follow up with the customer

When handling a customer’s complaint, be sure to track it in an internal database. These records should include the reason for the complaint, the steps to resolution, and any relevant customer feedback. Use this information to inform future decision-making, and share it with your team in case they run into similar situations.

That said, simply logging complaints isn’t enough—you should also follow up with customers to ensure you handled the issue effectively and they feel satisfied with the outcome. Chronicling complaints and following up with customers can help you improve your operations and deliver a better CX.

Frequently asked questions

Turn customer complaints into opportunities with Zendesk

Customer complaints can happen for several reasons: long wait times, poor product quality, inconsistent information, or just an off day for your business. But what matters most is how you handle negative feedback. Your reaction is key to building lasting customer relationships and growing your business.

At Zendesk, we offer a comprehensive CX solution that helps businesses of all sizes minimize their customer complaints. Whether you’re utilizing automation to streamline CX operations or data analytics to resolve issues proactively, we provide the features you need to deliver outstanding experiences time after time.

Start a free trial of Zendesk today to bolster your customer experience and turn your complaints into opportunities for improvement.

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