No matter how hard you try, every business and support leader eventually has to deal with dissatisfied customers. It’s inevitable. When this happens, how should you respond?
If you’re like many businesses, you may just ignore those complaints. But that’s a recipe for disaster, especially with the prevalence of online review platforms today. Ignoring or glossing over customer complaints will lead to a bad reputation and increased customer churn.
There’s a better way: Develop an effective complaints resolution process.
While no one enjoys customer complaints, having a proven process for dealing with them makes it significantly easier. Instead of feeling lost or overwhelmed, your support team will be armed with the resources and confidence they need to deal with complaints successfully.
What is Customer Complaints Resolution?
Customer retention is more important than ever. Whether you’re an ecommerce store or a B2B enterprise platform, the rise of the subscription economy means you can’t afford to repeatedly acquire then lose customers.
Retaining customers means you’ll need to find ways to keep them satisfied and successful for the long-term. When things go wrong and customers complain—whether it’s a bug, a missing feature, or a service delivery issue—you need to resolve those complaints successfully.
It’s worth noting that resolving a customer complaint doesn’t necessarily mean doing exactly what the customer wants. There may be a perfectly good reason you haven’t developed a certain feature, for example. In this scenario, resolving the complaint might mean educating the customer on your decision and providing an effective workaround that enables them to keep moving forward.
Why You Should Have a Complaint Handling Process
It’s been said that “failing to plan is planning to fail.” Dealing with customer complaints is one area where this saying certainly rings true.
You know that customer complaints will come, so failing to develop a complaint handling process is unwise. When you know it’s going to rain you bring an umbrella, right?
There are three big reasons to create a complaint resolution process:
- Documentation makes things scalable and easy. As your business grows, so will your complaint volume. Documenting the process means that your agents will know exactly what they need to do when complaints arise. It also frees up your managers and team leads, by ensuring they aren’t pulled in to deal with every complaining customer.
- Consistency can drive improved retention. If your support agents are approaching each complaint in an ad hoc fashion, you’ll never create a consistent customer experience. Developing a consistent complaint resolution process helps customers understand that you take their concerns seriously and want to retain their business.
- Standard processes can uncover opportunities for improvements. If you’re handling each complaint with a standard process, one outcome should be clearer visibility into what’s driving complaints (you can probably track this with your ticketing system). Over time, this will enable you to understand key drivers of complaints. You’ll then be able to find process improvements and product enhancements to reduce future complaints.
How to Implement a Complaint Resolution Procedure
When a customer is unsatisfied with your product, their first point of contact is probably going to be your customer service team. Your complaint resolution process primarily exists to train and empower your support agents to effectively resolve customer complaints. There are two aspects to this:
- Your tools and processes. Because tools vary from company to company, it’s hard to prescribe exactly how you should structure your process. Consider your existing tool stack, and create a process that enables agents to efficiently respond to complaints—including escalating tickets if necessary—while also giving you clear reporting into complaint-related tickets.
- Dealing with unhappy customers. Dealing with unhappy customers is a skill that applies across companies and industries, so we’ll share more best practices on this below.
Experienced customer support agents may understand some of these best practices intuitively, but it’s worth refreshing your team’s memory regularly. Your customer complaint handling process is a great thing to bring up at team meetings several times a year to remind everyone of your preferred approach.
Let’s look at some best practices for handling complaining customers.
Set emotions aside (as much as possible)
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed or emotional when dealing with an upset customer. That’s why it’s critical for your complaint handler—probably a support agent—to approach the issue with a level head.
While this can be difficult with some customers, it may help to remember that their frustration typically isn’t a personal attack on your support agent (and if they are verbally attacking your support agent, you should escalate that ticket to a manager ASAP).
If your team could use more help in this area, Help Scout has a great guide for dealing with different types of difficult customers.
Start by listening, not challenging
If a customer is upset and you think you know why, it’s natural to want to correct them or step in immediately. But that can cause more harm than good.
A better approach is to start by asking questions. Most customers aren’t totally unreasonable. When they complain, they have what they perceive to be a legitimate reason for complaining. That means a support agent’s job is to uncover what’s causing that friction and figure out how to resolve it.
The best way to do this is by asking good questions. You may need to let the customer vent first, but when you find a good opening, try asking open-ended questions like:
- Can you tell me more about that?
- Can you expand on what exactly you were trying to accomplish here?
- What did you mean when you said…?
Even if you’re unable to resolve their problem, asking good questions and repeating back what you’re hearing helps your customers feel like they’ve been heard.
Respond with help
Support is never one-size-fits-all. The fact is you’ll never be able to resolve every customer complaint. But once you feel like you’ve gotten clear on the root cause of the complaint, it’s time to transition into resolution mode. Ask yourself questions like:
- Is this something we can easily solve for?
- Are there creative approaches that would solve this or at least make it easier?
- Who else might have suggestions on how to help this customer?
If the complaint was caused by a misunderstanding or something simple, you may be able to resolve it immediately. That’s awesome. But you’ll frequently find that you’re unable to resolve complaints because of technical limitations, resource restrictions, or strategic decisions. When this happens, it’s often best to be as transparent as possible with the customer.
Try something like: “There’s no way to do X in our product because we’ve built it to do Y instead. I’ve noted down your issue and why it would be a helpful feature to add, and I’ve just shared that with our Product team for future consideration.”
Limit the customer effort
If there is a way to resolve the customer’s complaint, try to do so in a way that requires as little effort from the customer as possible. They’re already upset, so asking them to do additional work can add fuel to the fire.
While this isn’t always an option, sometimes a little creativity or elbow grease from a support agent can go a long way.
Apologize and thank them
Even when you can’t resolve a complaint, you still want your customer to know they’re respected and appreciated. Sometimes this can be as simple as apologizing for the issue and thanking them for their feedback.
There can be times where it’s not appropriate to apologize to customers—like with certain legal issues—but even then, you can still thank them for being a customer of your business.
Follow up and follow through
There are times where some kind of follow up message or follow through is necessary after dealing with a customer complaint.
If you’ve committed to do something—such as check into a bug fix or look for alternative solutions—then following through on those commitments is vital. Failing to do so will pour salt in the wound and only make the customer more upset.
It’s hard to overemphasize the importance of this. Research shows that handling a negative situation with empathy and compassion can actually lead to increased customer loyalty. If you can meet complaining customers with empathy and effectively resolve their problems, you may actually convert them from frustrated customers into raving fans.
There are also times where it may be appropriate to escalate the case to a manager or senior leader for follow up. If it’s a VIP customer or if the situation was particularly difficult, a brief message from a senior leader that demonstrates your understanding can mean a lot.
Customer service expertise
Are you overwhelmed at the thought of building out a complaint resolution process?
Peak Support exists to help small and growing businesses deliver great customer experiences. Our experienced customer support agents can take care of all of your customer service needs, or we can supplement your existing team.
If you’re interested in learning more, contact us today!