Customer complaints: Definition, examples, and resolution tips
Customer complaints may not be ideal, but they can help make your business better. Here’s how to handle them in an impactful way.
By Alaina Franklin, Director, Customer Success
Last updated September 14, 2023
No business can completely skirt the reality of customer complaints, no matter how diligently you focus on customer service. There will always be an off day or unfortunate circumstance that leads a customer to complain.
For companies that know how to handle consumer complaints, these issues can become more of an opportunity than a liability. A complaint is a chance to strengthen your relationship with a customer and improve your product or service. The key is being able to assess and resolve consumer complaints efficiently and effectively.
In this guide:
- What are customer complaints?
- Benefits of customer complaints
- How to analyze customer complaints
- Customer complaint resolution
What are customer complaints? 8 examples you may encounter
Customer complaints are pieces of negative feedback about a company’s product, service, or support experience. Consumers have high standards for customer service, and complaints often occur when those expectations aren’t met.
This type of customer feedback is usually communicated directly to a business, either in an email to the support team, a survey, or a feedback form. But sometimes, customers will express their dissatisfaction in public channels such as social media, community forums, and online review sites.
We’ve rounded up some common customer complaints and ways to handle them correctly.
1. Long wait times
By the time a customer calls you with a complaint, they’re already feeling frustrated. Putting them on hold or making them wait in a queue for a long time often exacerbates their issue.
The fix: Long wait times could mean the volume is too high for your customer service team to handle. Take a look at the peaks and valleys in contact center demand, and try to staff those times to match. You may also be able to deflect some inquiries by including self-service options that enable customers to find solutions on their own.
2. Inability to speak with a human
Automated phone systems or bots can help answer common questions, but callers get irritated when they get stuck in a loop without any way to talk to a live representative.
The fix: Offer direct support on various channels—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 on Facebook Messenger but then wants to speak to an agent over the phone, an omnichannel approach ensures your team can continue the conversation seamlessly.
3. Unsupportive agents
Over 30 percent of consumers say friendly support agents are key to a good customer experience. When your agents don’t have the right customer service skillsfor the job, it leaves a bad impression on buyers. And when a customer is already upset, an unfriendly agent only escalates the situation.
The fix: You’ll want to solve this customer service complaint proactively. Hire caring agents and provide empathy training for existing team members. A good service recovery program can also help remedy angry customers after the fact. For example, Birchbox encourages its agents to follow up with customers who rated their initial interaction poorly.
4. Needing to repeat information
Customers will start to feel frustrated if they have to repeat their issue multiple times, and they’ll reward businesses that save them from needing to do so. The Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2022 found that 92 percent of consumers will spend more with companies that ensure they don’t have to repeat themselves.
The fix: Customer service software like Zendesk can remove this pain point from the process. The right tech stack can connect your agents with the information and context they need to effectively help a customer—no repetition required. Agents can see complete customer profiles so they can resolve issues faster.
5. Inconvenient customer service hours
We live in a world where people can order something online and have it delivered the next morning. So, it’s no surprise that consumers expect quick and convenient customer service. According to the Sprout Social Index, 40 percent of consumers expect a response from businesses within an hour, while 79 percent expect a reply within the first 24 hours.
The fix: Provide support on-demand. An AI chatbot is a great way to expand your customer service hours. When agents are off the clock, a bot can handle the repetitive, basic queries that come in. Chatbots can also capture preliminary customer information and create tickets for agents to address when they’re back at their desks.
Global companies may also want to try a follow-the-sun model, a type of workflow in which customer issues can be handled by and passed between offices in different time zones. This can help increase responsiveness and reduce wait times.
6. Difficulty finding relevant information
Many customers want to take care of problems themselves: 83 percent will spend more with companies that allow them to find answers independently. Yet, only one-third of companies offer some form of customer self-service—whether through a help center, chatbots, or an FAQ page.
The fix: A stellar knowledge management system is the best way to handle this complaint. But building a knowledge base or online community is only the first step. Customers also complain when self-service resources are out of date, so you’ll want to have a plan for refreshing your online content. An AI-powered knowledge base can flag outdated articles and recommend new ones to write.
7. Lack of support channel variety
According to our CX Trends Report, 93 percent of consumers will spend more with businesses that offer their preferred communication channels, whether that’s email, phone, or text.
So if you offer support on only one channel, customers are likely to complain, especially if it’s a channel that’s inconvenient for them.
The fix: Invest in channels that your customers frequently use. You want to meet customers where they are and make it easy for them to reach out via their preferred method. PayJoy, for example, integrated a chat tool into its customer service offerings—leading to a higher customer satisfaction score and a 55-percent decrease in inbound calls.
8. Poor service or product
Sometimes, customers simply aren’t going to like what you offer. While it might be tough to hear the criticism, listening to an upset customer can be a valuable learning experience.
The fix: When customers come to you with complaints about your products or services, take note of what they’re suggesting could be better. This can help inform growth decisions and ensure you’re always working to improve.
Benefits of customer complaints for your business
Customers don’t complain just to make you look bad—they want you to respond with a solution and do better as a company. If you handle the feedback well, you can turn a negative situation into a positive one while learning along the way.
“Customer complaints are the biggest opportunity a business has to repair a fractured relationship with a customer.” Jonathan Brummel, director of enterprise support at Zendesk
Though complaints may be disappointing, they’re also a valuable resource to gain a better understanding of your customers and what they need. Other benefits of negative feedback include:
- Preventing a dissatisfied customer from churning
- Revealing customer pain points
- Building a positive brand reputation (if handled well)
- Creating opportunities for people to engage with your customer service team, leading to a better, more personal relationship with your brand
How to analyze feedback
Use customer complaints as a diving board to launch you into a pool of growth. With the right customer service software, your team can record complaints so they can be analyzed and shared with other departments across the business. You can also use surveys or community forums to collect customer feedback proactively.
Here are a few guiding questions when analyzing customer complaints:
- Has this happened to the customer before?
- Have other customers experienced this as well?
- What team does this impact and how can you be sure they see the feedback?
- What is your company’s policy for resolving the complaint? For example, do you offer a full refund for a dress that ripped three months after purchase?
- How can you make sure the customer doesn’t experience this again?
Consider a Voice of the Customer (VoC) program, a program that businesses use to collect and analyze customer feedback about their brand, products, or services.
Customer complaint resolution: 10 steps for solving customer pain points
Customer complaint resolution is a form of service recovery that enables a business to resolve a customer complaint and improve the customer’s experience. Here are 10 best practices for efficient complaint resolution.
1. Make answers easily accessible
Your customers probably have a need for speed, and that means it’s time to bring out your top guns. A searchable and accessible knowledge base can help agents and customers alike get the answers they need quickly.
When agents can readily find answers, they not only provide faster support but also have more time to tackle bigger issues.
An accessible knowledge base can also empower customers to solve problems on their own. Use chatbots and keywords to make it easier for users to find what they need, and organize your knowledge index to maximize efficiency. For example: at Zendesk, our knowledge base is organized by solution because clients often have product-specific questions.
2. Ensure relevant details move with the customer across channels
Customers who have to repeat themselves throughout the complaint process may end up feeling frustrated with your brand as a whole.
Arm your team with integrated support software that houses all customer information in one centralized location. This allows agents to find the relevant details about each customer—including their grievance, contact information, and purchase history—from the moment they start communicating with them. The conversation can stay connected, no matter how the customer chooses to interact.
3. Look at complaint data
Individual consumer complaints don’t exist in a vacuum. When one customer struggles with an issue, others have likely been in the same situation.
Use customer service software to track all the tickets that come in so you can see trends in customer feedback. Did support tickets spike after the release of a new feature? Do customer concerns get resolved at a snail’s pace? Are clients satisfied with their support interactions?
Leverage that data to amplify the voice of the customer and improve the overall customer experience.
4. Understand your customers
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for handling customer complaints—even irate customers don’t all want the same thing. Some want a refund, while others care more about an apology. The right response will depend on the type of customer and the specific situation.
Some types of customers you might encounter include:
- Angry customers: They often feel they’ve been wronged and want to express themselves, so let them speak without interrupting. Listen to the problem, try to understand what went wrong, and search for a solution. When dealing with angry customers, sometimes it helps to use templates that can de-escalate the situation.
- Impatient customers: They want things done at their own pace, which is usually at breakneck speed. Reassure them by letting them know you’re trying to resolve their issue as fast as possible.
- Vague customers: They don’t provide many details and may even say a lot without saying enough. Ask probing questions to pull out the information you need. You can also clarify their statements by saying, “Just so I’m clear,” and repeating what they said to you.
- Demanding customers: They aren’t easily satisfied and expect more than you can give. Apologize for the inconvenience they experience and try to resolve their problem quickly.
- Challenging customers: They usually have fixed opinions and might want to tell you how to do your job. Suggest solutions but don’t force your advice on the customer.
Customers may fall into one, two, or even three of these buckets. Knowing how to identify which type of customer you’re dealing with can help you serve them better.
5. Cultivate the right tone of voice
It’s common sense that pouring gasoline on a fire is only going to make it burn hotter and brighter. Confrontational customers can be similarly temperamental, so even though it’s challenging to stay calm and collected when dealing with an angry buyer, it’s paramount that agents do so.
Agents must strive to diffuse the situation with measured responses while remaining human. Be empathetic, curious, helpful, and knowledgeable. It’s a tricky balance to find but one that makes a big difference. A simple statement, like “I understand” or “I’m here and ready to help,” can go a long way.
6. Use reflective listening
When someone’s upset, one of the main things they want is to feel heard. With this in mind, don’t try to resolve consumer complaints before you’ve taken the time to understand them. Start by being present and using reflective listening. Repeat the customer’s complaint back to them to confirm you understand.
To ensure you have the full context, ask the right questions. For instance, if you’re a B2B company, you’ll want to ask questions that help you get a grasp on what’s happening internally at that client’s company.
7. Acknowledge their frustrations
Sometimes, customers may be frustrated with things that are beyond your control. Other times, though, you’ll find yourself in the wrong. Taking responsibility for your actions demonstrates that your business values integrity, which will increase the customer’s confidence in you.
Be empathetic about their complaints and affirm their feelings. For instance, saying something like, “If I was in your spot, I would be disappointed too,” shows the customer that you’re on their side and that they’ve been heard.
8. Set realistic expectations
Be upfront with customers about how long it may take to resolve their issue or how much you can do for them—and don’t make promises you can’t keep. People will often be understanding of any limitations on what an agent can offer, as long as a reasonable expectation is communicated from the start.
Although you might feel like you’re letting a customer down, committing to honest communication is imperative. Be real with the customer and remember that you’re not a machine. It’s okay if you can’t get them the solution they’re looking for right away.
9. Present a solution
Once you understand the problem at hand, follow up and determine the best path forward—whether that’s talking the customer through troubleshooting steps, sending a replacement product, offering a refund, or genuinely apologizing when you can’t deliver what they were hoping for. Give them something so they walk away feeling better about the brand.
10. Log the complaint
After you resolve the complaint, take the time to learn from the experience and help others do the same. Log it in an internal database so you can use it to inform future decision-making, and let other agents use it as an example if they run into a similar situation.
This helps you deliver better, faster customer service and keep track of valuable data, which can alert you to a larger-scale issue if you receive service requests or complaints about the same problem.
Be proactive about complaints
While it’s important to have a strategy in place for reacting to customer complaints, it’s even better to proactively reduce the chances of them happening in the first place. Anticipating customer needs is key.
You can be proactive by:
- Sending customer surveys to ask how you can improve your products, services, or support interactions. Use that information to provide superior experiences.
- Not ignoring potential issues. Sometimes, when a customer reaches out about one problem, you’ll notice another arising on the side. Don’t be afraid to speak up, even if it doesn’t relate to their original request.
- Using AI to predict bad satisfaction ratings before they occur.
If you’re about to lose a customer and your win-back plan fails, don’t make it hard for them to leave—this can turn a calm customer into an angry complainer. It’s better to let them go on a good note than to have them leave with a sour taste in their mouth.
Quick answers to common questions
How do you deal with customer complaints?
Companies that effectively deal with customer complaints use customer feedback as an opportunity to learn, improve, and prevent a buyer from churning. They take the steps needed to resolve the customer’s issue and share the feedback with the right team.
What are the most common complaints?
Some of the top issues customers complain about include long wait times, an automated system that makes it difficult to reach a human agent, and having to repeat information multiple times.
How can customers file a complaint against a company?
Businesses should make it easy for customers to get help when they experience issues and provide feedback by supporting them over the channels they use most. CSAT surveys are also a great way to glean customer feedback and learn why a customer might be dissatisfied.
Use complaints as a building block
Just like Simon and Garfunkel, all business owners strive to “keep the customer satisfied.” And we get it—no one likes to be critiqued. But in the business world, it’s inevitable.
Use negative feedback as an opportunity to learn and grow. It can help reveal pain points in your business model and shortcomings in your customer experience, enabling you to take action and improve your customer relationships.
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