How to Handle Customer Complaints Over the Phone

Gladly Team

Read Time

6 minute read

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“You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time” – John Lydgate

As hard as you may try, it’s nearly impossible to please your customers every single time. From perfectly reasonable human error, to external factors out of your control, there will be times that your team will encounter an unhappy customer.

How to Handle Customer Complaints

Customer service teams need clear processes to handle customer complaints as they arise. For example, have reps use scenarios to play-act, outline preferred language for answering complaints, and review completed complaints for any learnings.

In this post, we’ll focus on methods like these that’ll help any customer service team know how to respond to customer complaints over the phone, but there are lessons here that can apply to whatever the channel your customer reaches out on.

How to Respond to Customer Complaints in 5 Steps

  1. Listen Actively, Calmly, and Patiently: The first step to handling customer complaints is to really listen. Your customer could be calling for any number of reasons, and in order for you to identify their problem and assist them, you have to be calm, patient, and active in the way you listen to their opening complaint. It’s important to remember that the customer’s complaint is nothing personal against you or your organization. In the end, being empathetic and understanding will lead to the best result for you, your customer, and your business.
  2. Be Responsive: The most effective way to show you’ve listened to and understood your customer’s complaint is to be responsive. When planning what to say to customer complaints, it’s wise to open with a sincere apology. Follow it with language and phrases that show you’ve heard them clearly, such as “I completely understand what you’re saying. Let me see what I can do,” or, “I completely understand. That does sound frustrating.” Being responsive is a great way to calm your customers down and let them know that you’re both on the same side.
  3. Identify the Root of the Problem: Once you’ve listened to and connected with your customer from a point of empathy, you can begin to identify the root of their problem. How you identify the root of the problem will ultimately come down to the nature of the call and the type of business you’re running, but the fundamentals stay the same. You want to politely ask questions to identify what kind of problem your customer is dealing with and refer to your training to follow the necessary steps for that particular problem. When problem solving, it helps to have all of the customers’ details in one view; a key feature of Gladly’s platform.
  4. Offer Several Solutions: By providing several solutions to your customers, you’re ensuring the highest chance that your customers find a solution that they’re satisfied with. In some cases, the solution will be straightforward and obvious. In others, like with a damaged product or dissatisfied customer, you can provide multiple solutions. With a dissatisfied customer, you could offer a refund, product exchange, or company credits to be used as they please.
  5. Be Honest and Upfront: Whatever step you’re on, you want to be honest and upfront throughout the call. If there was a delivery mistake on the company’s end, don’t be afraid to come out and admit to it, and address the issue. If you’re honest, apologetic, and proactive about solving the complaint, your customers will most likely identify that sincerity and appreciate the way in which you handle the issue.

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Customer Complaint Examples

So how do these strategies for knowing how to handle a customer complaint translate into an actual phone call? Below are some examples of customer complaints in a call center and how to handle them following the guide above.

  • Scenario 1: A customer calls in because they feel they have waited too long for a service or product. The first thing to do is to apologize and express your understanding of their frustration. Once you’ve identified the problem, you can be upfront and let them know what the status is on their product or service. As opposed to being overly apologetic (or even worse, defensive,) you can keep things on a positive note and find the silver lining of the situation. Instead of apologizing and blaming the situation on the supplier, for example, you can instead reassure the customer that you’re working closely with your team to make sure their item comes in as soon as possible.
  • Scenario 2 – A product or service did not meet a customer’s expectations. Once you’ve heard the customer’s complaint, you want to first apologize that they’re unhappy with their product or service, regardless of whether or not you think they’re justified in their complaint. If the complaint seems somewhat unwarranted, like if they’re asking for an additional free item, try to work with them to find a middle ground. Perhaps provide a discount or offer other products that they could exchange their current product for.
  • Scenario 3 – You don’t have an answer or solution to their problem. This is a tricky situation for most agents to navigate. First off, show empathy for their situation and offer an apology if the fault is on your end. Most importantly, show your customer that you’re taking steps to resolve their issue—even if it’s not something you’re able to do on your own. For example, let your customer know that you’re going to bring their situation to the attention of your manager, and give them an estimation on when they might hear back from you. And if you still don’t have a resolution for them within that estimated time, be sure to reach back out and let them know, before they have to follow up themselves—that would simply cause more frustration to an already negative experience.

Use a Knowledge Base to Reduce Complaints

One of the most efficient ways to reduce customer complaints is by providing a natively built-in knowledge base that shoppers can access on your site. This knowledge base should contain frequently asked questions about your service or product (usually these are questions that, when unanswered, escalate to customer complaints.) Increasingly, customers want to be able to find answers to their own questions without having to engage with a customer service team. So, make it easy for shoppers–and your customer service team–by providing a knowledge base with ready-to-go questions and answers specific to your brand.

[Learn more about Gladly’s built-in self service tools.]

How to Handle Customer Complaints Over the Phone

Helping a frustrated customer can be a daunting task, even for the most experienced of customer service reps. By using these strategies for handling customer complaints, you can improve your customer’s experience in a challenging situation and give them a reason to keep returning to your business. You’ll also be helping your customer service on their mission to resolve customer complaints quickly, easily and successfully.

Do you have the data and tools you need to handle customer complaints?

Ultimately, the best way to respond to customer complaints is to be armed–with data. Because Gladly’s platform threads every customer communication–across all channels–into a single timeline, your agents always have the most up-to-date understanding of who your customer is, and what they need. Are you ready to grow your ecommerce business, connect with your customers, and provide a personalized customer service experience? See a free demo of Gladly.

About Gladly

Gladly is a customer service platform for digitally-focused B2C companies who want to maximize the lifetime value of their customers.   Unlike the legacy approach to customer service software, which is designed around a ticket or case to enable workflows, Gladly enables radically personal customer service centered around people to sustain customer loyalty and drive more revenue.

The world’s most innovative consumer companies like Godiva, JOANN, and TUMI use Gladly to create lasting customer relationships, not one-off experiences. 

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