How to Handle Complaining Customers

Written by on December 5, 2012

We all know handling complaining customers is tricky. On one hand, there is the usual business of handling, mitigating and resolving complaints. On the other, babysitting a couple of customers who constantly sap your support team of time and enthusiasm means you have fewer resources for those who can actually make a difference to your business.

And for all its glory, social media has not been a good friend when faced with complaining customers. A witty bad comment from an angry customer can snowball into a PR disaster. With a traditional customer support mindset, you are going to be stuck between trying to appease every complaint, and sidestepping ones that really matter. To be able to effectively handle customer complaints, your customer service has to be proactive.

The silver lining of complaining customers is the opportunity they present to turn the tale around and set things right.
Instead of getting defensive, can you involve the complaining customer into your support process? How can you make your team proactive and serve each complaint, without losing their mojo?

Here’re a few easy tips that will help you handle even the worst of them –

1. Listen, before jumping in
I know, how often have you heard that? But it’s kind of key. 96% of complaining customers don’t care about the numbers and statistics you throw at them – they just have an issue and they need to be heard. Plus giving them time to tell you their side of the story actually gives you a better idea of what the problem really is, rather than jumping the gun with the wrong answer.

2. Ask the right questions
Nothing can be more annoying than hearing a scripted voice at the other end. Asking the right questions means you can help your customer to a solution faster. Scripts work great to train your team, so write one down, print it out, and then burn it. Nobody wants to talk to a human agent who can’t pass the Turing test!

3. Empathize, care and show
Growing on the previous point, do you really care or do you act like you care? I think complaining customers develop a sixth sense to sniff out your agent’s fake concern. Of course, having agents get too emotionally connected and filling up your call center in tears isn’t the best place to be. But that’s definitely better than having a robot who just doesn’t care.

4. Don’t get defensive
A complaining customer needs a vent. And as the front-line face of the organization, your support agent is going to get yelled at quite often. But getting defensive and pointing the blame at the customer never helps. Customer service expert Rebecca Morgan suggests bringing in an inanimate object (like a bad instruction manual) as the punching bag to take the blame. Personally, I think if you hear the sound of ripping paper at the other end you’ve made some progress. The point is, make sure your support reps don’t get on the defensive – in most cases, a chivalrous “we are sorry” can take quite some heat off the table.

5. Dig up the Solution
At the end of the day, your customers still have a problem and that needs a solution. Quite understandably, your agents don’t have it at hand most often. That’s exactly why you should create a process of making sure no complaint falls into the gaps. Ticketing every complaint, making sure it reaches the right eyes within the team, and providing the solution you promised can go a long way in building trust with your customers. And once you get into their circle of trust, your complaining customer suddenly becomes a part of your “team”.

6. Rope them into the Solution
Sometimes there are no clear solutions. No matter what your support reps do, they can never make your car float through water or create magic over an item broken during delivery. But what they can do is make the customer a part of the solution. Ask them what they would want.

7. Process, process, process
How you handle a complaining customer is about empathy. How you handle the complaints, and win the customer forever is about process. When faced with a really bad customer conversation, get your team to take notes and learnings. Stage weekly meetings to discuss each agent’s “agony calls” and how they handled the complaint.

We are pretty soon you’ll have a bunch of support agents who can turn any complaining customer into a buddy for life.

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  • At the end of the day its all about having a sound mind and being focus in handling such complaints.  You really have to know how to listen and find solution to solve your customers concern.

  • subhankar sengupta

    Good Read. I liked the point- each agent’s “agony calls” and how they handled the complaint.
    and may be come up with better way to deal with it and put a DO ABLE process around it.
    I used balanced scorecard and key word was KISS (“keep it simple and straightforward”)
    I used- Highlights, lowlights, top risks,
    Some graphs-
    Customer Satisfaction Index, Financial Management Index, Service Delivery Index, People Index, Process Improvement Index

    • Anonymous

      Glad you found the post useful.. 🙂

  • These are indeed great tips on how to handle customer complaints. They are really helpful. Thank you for sharing.

  • Thank you for posting these tips in handling customer complaints. The tips are truly helpful. Cheers!