You just got a nasty call from a customer. They’re upset and want you to immediately handle their issue. What to do?
Here are the seven steps you should follow to resolve customer complaints, along with a downloadable PDF to keep you on track in future situations.
1. Respect the Customer
The customer might not have taken the time to read the directions. Maybe they didn’t listen at your last briefing. Perhaps they didn’t read the documentation that your team prepared to handle this very issue.
None of that matters now.1 You’re in business or gainfully employed because of your customer. They might not be right (or even thinking clearly) but that never excuses an unprofessional response on your end.
2. Listen to the Customer
You’ve heard the same complaint many times2 and this one is sounding exactly the same. It’s tempting to start responding immediately so that you can get this problem off your desk.
Two reasons why that’s a big mistake:
- You might be wrong. It may not be the same issue and you’ll only further anger your customer by not listening well and providing a fix that doesn’t work.
- Even if you’re right, jumping in before the customer can talk says that you aren’t up for taking the time to listen and just want to be done with the issue.
It’s a lose-lose for you not to listen to what your customer has to say.
3. Appreciate the Customer’s Situation
It’s easy for you to look at a customer’s problem and get frustrated with why they don’t see the value you are providing. Of course, you often have first-hand knowledge, expertise, and vastly more experience with your product or service than they do.
To serve customers well, you must meet them where they are. Stop and consider this advice from Dale Carnegie:
Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view.
Take a moment to consider their situation, the amount of knowledge or experience the customer likely has with this issue, and also what else the customer has going on right now. The complaint may not have much to do with you, if they are under tons of stress.
You’ve had tough times too. Give your customer the benefit of the doubt. You don’t have to agree with them to see things from their perspective.
4. Show Sympathy
Even if you don’t share the customer’s perspective, show sympathy for it. Their feelings and frustrations are real, whether you can relate to them or not.
Acknowledge the frustration they are experiencing and, if appropriate, apologize for any trouble they are experiencing.3 How you say this is often just as important as what you say — be genuine in your response.
5. Use the Customer’s Name
Few things anger a customer more than feeling like a number in your database. Even if you handle many customer relationships, it’s important that this situation be treated personally.
One of Dale Carnegie’s most valuable human relations principles is this one:
Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
Using your customer’s name in the conversation demonstrates that you recognize that there is a human being on the other end of the email, chat, or telephone.4
6. Try to Help
Once you feel that you fully understand the customer’s situation and have showed sympathy for it, do your best to help. If possible, resolve the issue immediately.
More complex problems won’t always be solved immediately, so be sure you do the following in those cases:
- If practical, provide the customer a temporary solution or workaround.
- Explain the next step your organization or you will take and the expected response time.
- If you need to delegate the issue to someone else, explain why and ensure that a colleagues follows-up in a timely way.
When it’s clear you are working to help, customer anger often migrates into dialogue and cooperation.
7. It’s Not Personal
Rarely are customer complaints personal. The complaint might seem personal, but more often it’s just because you happen to be the one who fielded the email, call, or happen to be in the role the situation answers to.
Get perspective from others on your team or trusted mentors. They’ll help you recognize what isn’t personal and perhaps what can do to keep this perspective in future interactions.
For better or worse, most customers are way more concerned about getting their problem resolved than they are about you.
Download the Roadmap
Want an easy way to remember these seven steps when fielding your next customer complaint? Download this one-page PDF with a helpful image at each step and save or post in your workspace.
Your questions and comments are welcome here.
Immediate Audio Coaching
- Episode 95: What to Do When Passed Up for Promotion (10-minute audio)
- Episode 96: How to Stand Out From Your Competition (8-minute audio)
- Episode 97: The Value of a Good Challenge (10-minute audio)
- Episode 98: Three Steps That Motivate People to Change (9-minute audio)
All past episodes are available on the Carnegie Coach podcast archive.
- While it doesn’t matter in the moment, it matters what you do going forward. If your customer is never using something you’re producing (like detailed documentation) either find a better way to make them aware of it or stop producing it altogether. ↩
- If indeed you’re hearing the same issue again and again, that’s an indicator your team or you need to address the concern a lot more proactively. ↩
- Some organizations have rules against formally apologizing for legal or contractual reasons. If that’s true for you, fine — but you can still show sympathy even if you can’t utter the words “I’m sorry.” ↩
- Be cautious about over-using first names. Repeating a customer’s name to them in every sentence often sounds patronizing. Like many good things, employ a healthy dose of moderation. ↩