How to Handle Complaints Over the Phone

Nobody likes getting complaints, but sometimes things go wrong. The way you respond to customer complaints can have a big effect on your business.

If you handle complaints in the wrong way, you can end up losing valuable customers and the referrals they may have sent you. Handle them really badly and you could get some unwanted attention on social media.

Handle phone complaintsOn the flip-side, if you handle complaints well, you can end up increasing the bond you have with your customers and even turn them into raving fans. Most people are fairly reasonable and understand that sometimes things don’t go to plan. As long as you’re seen to be responding in the right way and trying to sort things out, most people will stick with you.

As an added benefit, even though it may not feel like it at the time, complaints offer an insight into your customers, their desires and their expectations. If you’re consistently getting the same complaints it could be a signal to update your processes and sales materials to address them.

So, how should you go about handling customer complaints over the phone?

  1. Firstly, you should listen to what the person complaining is telling you. It’s important to listen to what they’re actually saying, rather than jumping to conclusions. It’s also important to make sure the caller feels heard, so you should be letting them know with occasional short phrases / sounds, such as “uh-huh” and “okay” whilst they’re speaking. If they are angry or frustrated you should acknowledge this and not trivialize it.
  2. If you need to, you should then ask questions to make sure you’ve understood correctly and have all the relevant information. It’s usually best to wait until the caller has finished speaking, rather than interrupt, unless you can’t follow what they’re telling you and need clarification.
  3. Find out what they want to happen next. You may find that some callers don’t actually want you to do anything – they just wanted to let you know what had happened. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t act to put things right. Many people complaining will have an outcome they’d like to achieve from the call. Finding out what this is will help you work out how best to resolve their issue.
  4. Offer to try and help. Even if you’re sure you can help, it’s often best not to promise you can fix things until you’re 100% sure you can. Also, most callers will understand that you can’t always guarantee a solution there and then, but will expect you to treat the matter seriously. The exception to this is when it’s a fairly simple fix and you have the power to remedy the situation straight away. In this case it’s a good idea to do it immediately.
  5. Fix the problem. Once you have gathered information and worked out what went wrong, you should work out how best you can solve the issue. Call the customer back and tell them what you’re going to do and when. If it’s not what they wanted, you should explain why this is the case and why you are taking your current course of action instead.
  6. After you have taken action, keep in touch with the person complaining to make sure it all goes smoothly and they are happy. The extra attention at this point can go a long way to repairing trust and rebuilding your relationship.

Of course, there are so many variables involved when a situation goes wrong, and it’s not always clear what to do, let alone easy to fix.

Sometimes the customer isn't right

Sometimes it may not even be your fault. The customer may have made a mistake, have unrealistic expectations, or something completely unforeseen might have happened you can’t do anything about. Examples of this might be from an item being delivered to the wrong address (or getting lost in the post), to a shipping container sinking with your product onboard, and everything inbetween.

As a general rule, it’s usually a good idea to absorb smaller losses and make sure the customer is happy, especially if they have bought from you before and likely will do so again in the future.

Alternatively, if it’s clearly the other party who’s at fault, if they are being very unreasonable, or you suspect they are trying to deceive you, it may be better to stick to your principles, refuse any sort of refund / compensation and advise them to take their custom elsewhere in the future. Your customer support staff will thank you for that and will have more time to work with customers who deserve it.

Written by Matt