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By Use Case
A complete guide on dealing with customer complaints effectively and creating a complaint management strategy to improve customer loyalty.
No matter how good your product or service is, no business is perfect. Mistakes happen and at some point, it’s inevitable that you’ll receive customer complaints.
It’s important to deal with customer complaints quickly and effectively. When customers have poor experiences with your business, they’ll tell other people about them. The reach of this negative news can spread further than ever now that customers can quickly communicate with many people through social media and other digital channels. In today’s hyper-connected world, ignoring customer complaints isn’t an option.
Only 4% of dissatisfied 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. On top of that, while many companies will pay for focus groups, surveys, and other forms of research to find opportunities to fix mistakes, customers are freely offering up their insights in the form of complaints. Customer complaints are valuable information to help you improve your business.
Some customers may complain only to their friends and family. In those cases, there’s nothing you can do to stop them. But many times, customers will make their complaints known through a variety of channels. Depending on how the customers contact you, your strategy for responding to them may be different.
When customers complain via email, there are benefits and drawbacks. This 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. However, email is ripe for misunderstandings. It can be difficult to convey the right tone since the customer can’t hear your voice or read your body language. Unlike with chat, if you say something that the customer takes the wrong way, you can’t correct yourself immediately and the customer may stew on it for hours, leading them to become angrier and even send multiple additional messages. Always re-read your responses from the point of view of someone who may be angry and on the defensive. If any word or phrase is ambiguous and could potentially be interpreted in a negative light, then replace it.
Complaints received through live chat can be tricky because, like other digital channels, there is a level of anonymity that can cause customers to be extra aggressive with their complaints. Fast responses and a well-placed emoji can counter that and improve customer satisfaction with their live chat experiences. Customers often use a more casual tone in chat messages. Feel free to match that, but keep things professional, to make them feel they’re taking part in a real conversation.
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 really connect and build a relationship during a real-time conversation where you and your customer are humanized through the sound of your voices. Be sure to be prepared when you pick up the phone. Have all your tools open, be ready to improvise. Don’t try to multi-task, just listen closely. If you need to, you can always put the customer on a short hold if you need time to research or think through a complicated issue. Just let them know what to expect and don’t make it too long.
Customers may complain on your social media profiles or on 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.
Public complaints on review sites are extremely important 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. 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.
If you have a brick-and-mortar location, you might get complaints directly to your face. It’s important 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 so they are fed back into improving the entire customer experience next time.
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.
If there are a lot of steps required to submit a complaint, like a complicated feedback 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 make it easy, you’ll receive complaints directly, and often privately, instead of publicly and on channels that you don’t control. That said, there will still be times when customers don’t complain to you directly, so you need to be proactive about finding complaints.
Be sure to frequent all the places where your business has a public presence or is discussed by your customer community -- Reddit, Yelp, and G2 Crowd are some places to start. When you see a complaint, identify yourself as an employee of your company and ask the customer if you can help solve their problem.
As mentioned, you may see complaints on social media. Some of those will be posted directly to your social media pages. Other times, customers may complain about you without mentioning you directly. Monitor hashtags on social media and use keyword searches to help you find these complaints, then use your company’s social media channels to reach out with an offer to assist.
As you come across complaints, you’ll want to categorize and track them so you know the things that have gone wrong in your business and work to make sure those things don’t happen again to other customers.
Complaints will always fall into common trends. The first step is reviewing enough individual complaints to start seeing these trends. Once you’ve spotted some, you can create a list. Then, as new complaints come in, you can reference the list and categorize them using a helpdesk ticketing system.
As you categorize your complaints, you’ll be generating a lot of data about what customers complain about the most. Review this data on a regular basis to find opportunities to improve your customer experience and prevent future complaints.
Help desk software makes this easy when you have built-in reporting that shows frequency of tag usage, but it’s ultimately up to you to make the time and effort to look at it and develop solutions to common problems.
Reviewing your data on a regular cadence 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 know you’re on the right track. But if you don’t, then you’ll know that you may need to try another method.
Customer complaints must be addressed, not only to help the individual with the complaint, but to protect your company’s reputation and, if on a public channel, show other customers and potential customers that you care. Don’t just address the complaint, handle it well by taking a thoughtful approach.
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 a timeframe for how quickly the customer should expect to hear back from you.
Customers today expect fast responses: One study by Toister Solutions found that customers expect an email response within just one hour. Others have shown that 41% of customers expect an email response within six hours. But those are statistics for a response to an average inquiry. Complaints are more urgent than other types of inquiries like feature requests or positive feedback. As compared to other types of inquiries, you have an even smaller window of time to resolve complaints before the customer writes you off or goes to a competitor.
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.
Most customers don’t voice their complaints or give you the opportunity to make things right. A complaining customer is giving 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.
Express understanding and sympathy for the customer’s experience, and acknowledge the mistakes your business makes. Sometimes, it may be unclear as to whether or not a mistake was made, and you don’t always have to apologize as if you’ve done something wrong, but 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 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.
As important as apologies are, the customer ultimately wants a resolution to their complaint. Be solution-oriented and find a way to fix the problem. 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 provide 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.
A big part of being flexible is ensuring that your customer support team is empowered. Training, an up-to-date internal knowledge base, and autonomy to make decisions are key to equipping your team to handle the majority of complaints without escalating to management and requiring unnecessary transfers.
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.
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.
When offering a solution, ensure the customer has heard you by asking them if they understand. 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?”
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 them bringing their issue to your attention helped you identify the opportunity.
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. And when customers are angry, look past it to 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.
Be sure to store the customer complaint somewhere, like a help desk software. This way if the customer complains again in the future, you’ll have the full history and context of their relationship with your company.
When all is said and done, hopefully, your customer will have gotten what they needed from their conversation with you. 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.
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 for next time.
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, and that builds an immense amount of trust, which in turn inspires loyalty and advocacy.
Everything that’s been described above is considerably easier to do when you use a customer complaint software like Freshdesk. The right software makes monitoring, categorizing, and handling customer complaints a smooth and effective process.
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 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, 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?”
Automations can help take care of the 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, the subject line or more.
Another way to use automations 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.
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.
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