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6 Smart Strategies to De-Escalate and Transform Customer Complaints

It’s a hard truth: If you have a business, you’ll get complaints. It’s something you can prepare for with proactive strategies. While we might wish that every interaction could go swimmingly, some won’t, and a valued customer will be displeased. Better to handle those inevitable situations with a pre-planned response than with a spontaneous reaction.

This kind of planning is an integral part of an effective customer service strategy. Along with pointing customers to the information they need and answering their most pressing questions, the ability to appropriately respond to their complaints can mean the difference between success or failure for your business. Consider, for example, these customer service metrics from Qminder:

  • Businesses in the U.S. lose approximately $1.6 billion every year due to poor customer service.
  • Companies that deliver strong customer service increase annual revenue by as much as 8%.
  • 70% of customers whose complaints are effectively resolved will continue to buy products from the company.
  • Acquiring new customers costs about 25 times more than retaining existing ones.
  • Almost 75% of customers “fall in love” with companies because of “friendly customer service representatives.”

As every business is different, the nature of the complaints received will vary. Where internet service providers will hear from customers about downtime, retailers are more likely to hear issues about products that fail to work as advertised. That said, some customer complaint strategies work for any industry sector. Here are six key tactics to implement now:

Don’t take it personally. A dissatisfied customer won’t know your support rep, but they may feel comfortable treating them in a negatively familiar way, being rude and even attacking their honesty. Train your reps to put personal feelings and emotions aside and focus on the facts in order to find the best result for the situation.

Don’t challenge the customer. There are plenty of instances where customers simply get the facts wrong — or even stretch the truth. Again, it’s acceptable for your customer service agents to state the facts as they understand them. It’s never good practice to tell customers they’re “wrong” or aren’t telling the truth.

Be genuine. Today’s consumers are savvy. They can tell the difference between a gratuitous expression of gratitude and one that’s credible. Share with your reps that complaints, far from hurting your business, are opportunities to improve your business. This will make their “thank you” more authentic and build trust with your customers. On the other end of the spectrum, apologies also need to be credible. After all, saying “I’m sorry” doesn’t necessarily mean that your business made a mistake. It can simply mean that you’re sorry the customer was inconvenienced or dissatisfied. That’s a genuine sentiment, one your customers are more likely to believe.

Practice active listening. Customers get frustrated when customer service agents don’t seem to hear what they’re saying. Train your reps to repeat what the customer says. (“So, if I understand you, you’ve been trying to return your sweater, but no one told you how. Is that right?”) Continue doing this until the customer says, “Yes, that’s right.”

Make sure customers understand what you’re saying. Active listening will only go so far if customers can’t figure out what your support agent is saying. You don’t want your reps to appear patronizing or condescending, so have them ask if the customer understands in a way that puts the onus on the agents. Don’t ask a question that insinuates even a hint of criticism or judgment: “Do you know what an ethernet cable is?” Instead, ask, “Did I explain that okay, or did I leave something out?”

Have a smart follow-up plan in place. Following up on complaint calls within 24 or 48 hours is a powerful way to demonstrate that your business genuinely cares about your customers. Implement a procedure that determines whether your CS agents or managers make that follow-up call. If managers make the calls, ensure that they have all of the facts of the case that your agents would have in front of them before initiating the conversation.

In today’s competitive business environment, offering great customer support is critically important to growing your brand, living up to the promises in your value proposition, and fostering the loyalty your business needs to thrive and grow. With effective customer service strategies and training in place, you’ll be equipped to turn every customer interaction, even those that may start off as a complaint, into an experience that brings the customer closer to your brand.

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