What are customer complaints? 

No matter how good your product or service is, mistakes happen and at some point, your customers will inevitably call them out. When a customer reports an issue or expresses dissatisfaction with your product, service, or business, it is recorded as a customer complaint.

Why do customers complain?

Customer complaints usually arise when there are gaps between what was promised and what is delivered. Customers are bound to have expectations and perceptions about your business. Failing to meet customer expectations and needs pushes customers to voice their complaints. 

Understanding the different types of customers and their personality traits can help you see where customers are coming from and figure out how likely they are to raise a complaint. By doing this, you can also understand the kind of customer service experience they’d appreciate and devise appropriate complaint resolution processes.

Infographic with different types of customers

Customer complaints are not always bad for business. Here’s why.

“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning”. - Bill Gates

Customer complaints highlight areas of improvement and offer valuable information that can help you improve your business. Many companies conduct paid research with surveys and focus groups to find opportunities and fix mistakes. However, customers are freely offering their insights in the form of complaints. 

According to Lee Resource International, only one in twenty-six unhappy customers actually voice their complaints, so when they do, it’s a rare opportunity to make things right, win your customer back, and prevent negative word-of-mouth. Plus, Microsoft research states that 95% of customers cite customer service as important in their brand choice and loyalty. 

How you respond to your customer complaints shows how much you care about your customers. By listening to customers and resolving their complaints swiftly, you can keep them from switching to your competitors.

To sum up, here are the three reasons why customer complaints are essential for the growth of a business:

What are the types of customer complaints?

Being aware of the different types of complaints and the common customer complaints helps customer service representatives be prepared to handle angry or difficult customers. This can in turn help in reducing customer churn and increasing customer retention. Here are the three different types of customer complaints that businesses encounter.  

Product-related complaints

These refer to complaints associated with products, including poor quality, high price and missing features.

Service-related complaints

These are complaints related to post-purchase customer service. Service-related complaints include long wait times, high response and resolution times, queries related to delivery, shipment, and refund, and issues with the customer support agents’ behavior and bad user experience.

Complaints raised due to misunderstanding

These complaints arise when there is miscommunication between both parties. The customers might misinterpret any information and raise a complaint.

How to deal with customer complaints

As a business, it’s essential to have the right processes and technology in place to deal with customer complaints effectively. Here’s how you can go about setting that up:

Simplify the process of reporting a complaint

If there are many steps required to submit a complaint, like a complicated contact form, long IVR phone tree, or horrible wait times for your live chat or call center, then customers will be far less likely to share their complaints with you. 

Eliminate any unnecessary barriers for submitting complaints and make getting in touch with you an effortless experience. Customers don’t want to jump through hoops to reach you, especially when they’re already aggravated.

When you are easily accessible, you’ll receive complaints directly, and often privately instead of publicly and on channels you don’t control.

Record customer complaints

Be sure to record the customer complaint using a dedicated customer service software. This way, if the customer complains again in the future, you’ll have the full context of their relationship with your company by taking one quick look at their past interactions. 

As you come across complaints, you need to categorize and track them so you know what has gone wrong in your business and work to make sure those things don’t happen again to other customers.

As you categorize your complaints, you’ll generate a lot of data about what customers complain about the most. The next step is to review this data regularly to find opportunities to improve your customer experience and prevent future complaints.

Track and analyze customer complaints

Periodically reviewing data ensures that you always keep a pulse on what’s important to your customers, even as your business and their expectations change. By staying tuned to any changes in customer complaints, you’ll make sure you’re always focusing on what’s most important to customers.

You’ll also be able to measure the impact on improvements that you implement. As you take steps to correct a problem that causes complaints, you should see complaints about that particular problem decrease. If you do, then you see you’re on the right track. But if you don’t, then you’ll know that you may need to try another method.

Once you start reviewing customer complaints, you’ll notice that they fall into common trends. A helpdesk software with built-in reporting makes it easy to notice trends, slice and dice data, and arrive at useful insights. 

The ultimate cheat sheet for common customer complaints

Here’s a cheat sheet containing common customer complaints that you can fix by adjusting your customer service strategy or investing in the right tools and technology.

Common customer complaints

How to resolve them

Poor product quality

Launch AI chatbots that can automate refund and replacement requests. Gather feedback after every customer interaction to get feedback on product quality and make improvements accordingly. 

Long wait time

Streamline internal processes, provide a range of customer self-service options that customers can browse through to find answers by themselves.

Assigning the conversation multiple times

Set up workflow automations that route customer conversations to agents who are most skilled in handling them.

High average handle time

Optimize agent performance with agent-facing bots, facilitate seamless inter-team collaboration, and leverage workflow automations to automate repetitive tasks.

Issues with the support agents

Invest in quality assurance, conduct periodic training and retaining to cover product updates as well as soft-skills enhancements.

Delivery, shipment, and refund issues

Offer automated solutions with AI-enabled chatbots that can view data from their-party solutions such as your order tracking software and produce instant answers.

Complaints raised due to misunderstanding

Have clear customer service policies in place, set deadlines for response and resolutions using SLAs.

How to resolve customer complaints

Satisfactory customer complaint resolution can protect your company’s reputation and, if on a public channel, show other customers and potential customers that you care. Handling customer complaints by taking a thoughtful approach that involves delivering consistent experiences can work out well in your favour. Here’s an effective step-by-step complaint resolution process that you can implement:

Step 1: Respond quickly

Speed of survey today has a direct impact on customer satisfaction and loyalty. In fact, a study by Harvard Business Review found that customers who have a complaint handled in less than 5 minutes go on to spend more on future purchases.

Luckily, a ‘quick response’ means different things on different channels. Here’s a list of the acceptable wait times for addressing customer complaints across channels. You can use this to set your benchmarks, policies, and service level agreements.

Channel

Acceptable wait-times
(Source: Call Center Helper)

Dos and don'ts

Email 

4 hours

95% of emails answered within four hours (the better contact centers are aiming to respond to 80% of emails within 15 minutes)

Email is arguably the most asynchronous of channels, and customers expect the slowest response time here. So, you have a little more time to research and compose a thoughtful reply.

It can be challenging to convey the right tone since the customer can’t hear your voice or read your body language. So, always re-read responses from the point of view of someone who may be angry and on the defensive.

Live chat 

40 seconds

80% of chats answered within 40 seconds

Live chat enables agents to engage in multiple conversations at once. Fast responses and a conversational tone can improve customer satisfaction with their live chat experiences.

Phone 

20 seconds

80% of calls answered within 20 seconds

Phone complaints can be intimidating because you don’t have much time to think through your responses. With practice, though, phone can be one of the most rewarding channels because of the potential to connect and build a relationship during a real-time conversation where you and your customer are humanized through the sound of your voices.

Social media 

20 minutes

80% of contacts answered within 20 minutes

Customers may complain on your social media profiles or their own social media profiles. These public complaints are highly sensitive. Other customers have visibility into the complaint and your response to it, so respond very quickly and treat them with extra care.

In-person complaints

Not applicable

If you have a brick-and-mortar location, you might get complaints in person. It’s essential to address these immediately so that the person walks out of your store satisfied with their experience (or at least knows what next steps to expect). In-person complaints also need to be recorded to be fed back into improving the entire customer experience next time.

Pro tip: Even if you can’t solve it right away, no one likes to be left in the dark after taking the time to voice their concern. Set up an auto-response that confirms you’ve received the complaint and communicate the timeframe for how quickly the customer should expect to hear back from you.

Complaints are more urgent than other types of inquiries like bugs or customer feedback. Compared to other types of questions, you have an even smaller window of time to resolve complaints before the customer writes you off or goes to a competitor.

Also, public complaints on review sites are significant to address because not only will you be resolving an individual customer complaint, you’ll also be showing other existing and potential customers that you care. Research from ReviewTrackers states that 53 percent of customers expect businesses to respond to negative reviews within a week. If you respond to a negative review with grace, you show other customers how they can expect to be treated if they ever encounter a problem with your company.

Step 2: Sense the tone of the conversation

Different types of customer complaints warrant different messages that are required to set things right from the get-go. For example,

When dealing with an angry customer - apologize
Express understanding and sympathy for the customer’s experience, and acknowledge the mistakes your business makes. Sometimes, it may be unclear whether or not a mistake was made, and you don’t always have to apologize as if you’ve done something wrong. Still, you can almost always apologize for the fact that the customer has had a negative experience.

By apologizing to your customer, you’re expressing that you understand and sympathize with the emotional component of the bad experience they’ve had, helping them to feel heard and cared for. And by admitting to your mistakes, you demonstrate integrity and honesty, which inspires and builds mutual trust.

When the customer submits feedback - thank them
Most customers don’t voice their complaints or allow you to make things right. A complaining customer gives you a golden opportunity to fix things, win them back, and improve things for others. Thank them for taking the time and effort to let them know they’re appreciated. Plus, by showing your gratitude, you validate them, helping them feel like a valued partner in finding a solution. It’s much easier to come to a solution with a customer who sees you as a partner than one who sees you as an enemy who has wronged them.

Getting the tone right ensures that you can handle the conversation smoothly and deliver a satisfactory resolution.

Step 3: Get complete information

When resolving complaints, it’s important to use active listening skills. Pay attention and listen, without interruptions, to ensure you fully understand the details and what’s at stake. Then, sum up and repeat the problem back to the customer to confirm your understanding.

One way to uncover customer complaints is simple: ask customers what they think. You can ask them right at the point of sale, send surveys, or make follow-up calls. The one constant here is to make it easy for customers to share with you.

Another way to get complete information is to use an omnichannel customer service software like Freshdesk that offers a unified view of conversations across all channels and allows for multiple integrations necessary for accessing information from external applications.

Step 4:  Provide a solution

Be solution-oriented and find a way to fix the problem — the customer ultimately wants a resolution to their complaint. Sometimes, customers will ask for solutions that you can’t provide due to practical limitations in your product or resources. In those cases, try to offer an alternate solution, so the customer isn’t walking away completely empty-handed. You can also keep some funds or gifts on hand to offer as a reconciliation when you’ve run out of options.

Some solutions will require some time and additional steps. When that happens, keep your customer in the loop, providing them with updates each step of the way. Tell the customer what you’re doing and why. Keep treating them as a partner in the process and, where possible, ask for permission to take steps toward resolution. For example, ask them if it’s all right for you to reship their order or log into their account to investigate a bug.

Avoid harsh phrases like “Do you understand?”, which might be perceived as demeaning or aggressive. Instead, ask them something like “Do you have any other questions about this or is there anything else I can do to help?”. In addition to finding the best solution, speaking in a kind, professional manner while resolving customer complaints is equally important.

Five tips for agents to manage customer complaints better

Stay calm

Throughout the process, remain calm and don’t act defensively. Remember that customer complaints aren’t personal and that you’re there to help. Be extra careful when it comes to tone to avoid sounding dismissive or accusatory. When you’re dealing with angry or unhappy customers, find the opportunity and insight. Don’t tolerate abusive behavior from customers, but on the other hand, don’t dismiss a complaint simply because the customer isn’t presenting it in the best tone.

Assure the customer that you’re working to improve

Always provide assurance that your business will take steps to prevent future mistakes. One way to do that is by tracking and categorizing complaints as described above and using that information to make important changes in your business.  If possible, state-specific measures you’ll be taking and let the customer know that bringing their issue to your attention helped you identify the opportunity.

Transfer smoothly

Transfers should be avoided when possible, but occasionally they do need to be made, such as when help is required from a specific group or employee with highly specialized knowledge. When this happens, be sure to make the transfer as seamless as possible. Explain to the customer that you’ll be transferring them, and why, then hand over as much information as possible to your teammate so the customer doesn’t have to repeat themselves. Share important information you’ve gathered using private notes in your customer service software, so the next agent has all the context they need to jump right into solving the problem.

Follow up

Hopefully, your customer will have gotten what they needed from their conversation with you when all is said and done. Make sure that’s the case by following up 24-48 hours later to ask about their support experience. If you fix the problem they had, for example, a specific bug, even if it’s weeks later, follow up to let them know and thank them again for helping to contribute to the fix.

Learn and move forward

The process of handling a customer complaint is a learning experience, not only on the broad scale of how to improve your business, but on the individual level for you as a professional. Every time you handle a customer complaint is an opportunity to refine your skills and serve the next customer better. If things don’t go 100% smoothly or if the customer still ends up unhappy after you’ve done everything you can to help, review the interaction and identify what you can improve next time. Leverage training sessions and internal knowledge bases to make decisions and handle complaints without any escalations.

Turn customer complaints into compliments with a customer complaint software  

Turn customer complaints into compliments with a complaint management software like Freshdesk. Depending on how well you handle complaints, your most frustrated customers can sometimes become your biggest advocates. When you follow a process that makes them feel heard and shows that you’re acting on their feedback, you show your customers that you’re there for them even during the hard times, which builds an immense amount of trust, which inspires loyalty and advocacy. Everything that’s been described is considerably easier to do with Freshdesk. The right software makes monitoring, categorizing, and handling customer complaints a smooth and effective process.

 
Manage complaints from different channels

Bringing together the complaints from all the different channels where customers might vent means less context switching for your agents, fewer tools, and more efficient workflows that allow you to get back to customers faster.

Customers who contact you to complain are already feeling frustrated. Don’t ask them to switch to another channel -- answer them where they reached out. A centralized inbox lets you focus on the solution, instead of directing traffic.

A unified view of customer complaints across channels
 
Automations for a smoother experience

Automation can help take care of things like triaging incoming complaints. When left to the software, each incoming complaint can be automatically prioritized and assigned to the right group, so your team can address the most sensitive customer complaints quickly and accurately. Complaints can be routed based on the customer’s location, language, subject line, or more.

Another way to use automation is to follow-up with customers and keep them in the loop on the status of a solution. You can send out a notification if a customer has been waiting for a while and proactively keep them informed.

Workflow automations in a customer complaints software
 
 
Improve inter-team collaboration 

Some tickets, such as refund or return orders, require the involvement of multiple teams. Cross-team collaboration is made simple with Freshdesk where you can easily loop in your teammates to a ticket without losing context of the customer information or lapses in communication. With shared ownership, multiple teams can work on the issue parallelly without losing access or progress of the ticket. 

Team collaboration in a complaint management software
 
Provide options for self-service 

Customers today prefer the ease and immediacy of finding solutions by themselves. Plus, having a range of self-service resources will reduce the number of incoming queries. 

With Freshdesk, you can build an exhaustive knowledge base, launch AI-enabled chatbots, and foster an active user community. You can help your customers troubleshoot their issues on their own, and thereby deflect common support tickets, so your agents can focus on solving more complex issues.

Self-service options for instant resolutions
Make data-driven decisions with reporting

A quality software will have reporting that lets you derive insights from all your customer complaints. Use reporting to view the number of complaints of a particular type, the status of different complaints, or the time it takes your team to resolve complaints. Lifecycle reports can reveal which types of complaints take the longest amount of time to resolve or which are delayed the most by waiting for information from other teams.

 It can be easy to get overwhelmed with the options for your data, but Freshdesk’s Team Dashboards lets you focus on the metrics that matter. And you can use plain words to ask your helpdesk what you want to know like, “How many tickets were reopened last month?”

Reporting in a customer service software

Handle customer complaints with care

Customer complaints are a necessary part of doing business. Monitoring complaints, handling them well, and tracking and reviewing common complaints will help you win back customers, prevent negative word-of-mouth, and give insights on how to improve customer experience.