Four tips to best handle customer complaints

A base of loyal, happy customers is key for every successful businesses. In this digital age, an unhappy customer could send your sales into a free​-fall with the click of a button.

“Don’t underestimate the power of a disgruntled customer,” customer service expert Rebecca Morgan told Inc. “They wreak havoc in your organization because [complaints] upset everybody and, with these tools of Twitter and Facebook and Yelp, they can get the word out quickly.”

Here are four tips to best handle customer complaints and turn negative experiences into positive ones.

1. Listen first
The most important part of an effective customer service strategy is to listen to your customer. Training Magazine highlighted the importance of keeping quiet and letting your customer explain – and in some cases, vent about – the problem they encountered. Remember not to interrupt, as this may irritate your client and steer the conversation toward a combative tone. Industry expert Ann Thomas told Inc. to acknowledge your customer’s emotions with soothing phrases like, “That must have been frustrating for you.” Thomas insists that a good empathy statement does not imply ownership of the problem, but shows your customer that you care.

According to Training magazine, calm customers absorb information much more effectively. Listening in a quiet and respectful way can help relax your customers enough to open their minds to possible solutions.

2. Focus on fair
Inc. reports that customers who feel wronged may demand excessive compensation to settle the disputes. One way to prevent overcompensating for issues is to promote fairness in you customer service agenda.

“One of the key phrases, which not a lot of people use, is: What would you think would be fair?” Morgan told the source. “That word fair does seem to bring out in people a sense of, OK, this is reasonable.”

Once the issue is resolved, any extra benefits are just gestures of good faith. Nonetheless, Training Magazine writes that these small compensations are important for future referrals and positive word-of-mouth recommendations. The cost can be minimal, like a simple upgrade on the customer’s next purchase or a small gift certificate, but the thought will likely go a long way toward correcting his or her negative experience.

3. Put it in writing
After a successful verbal communication, issuing a written apology can remind your customer that your business appreciates their feedback. Morgan encourages customer services representatives to start their letters with something positive. For example, thank your customer for bringing the issue to your attention. It’s most important that your response be polite.

“If you find that the little hairs on the back of your neck are standing up, or you’re clinching your jaw as you write the email,” Thomas warns, “it’s probably worth your while to have a colleague edit the document before sending it.”

4. Search for complaints
There are myriad outlets for customers to voice their concerns, and you can set your firm apart by scouring the Internet for feedback. Online feedback forms, Facebook, Twitter, and user-review sites like Yelp are all examples of forums in which a customer can report a negative experience with your company. Inc recommends that customer service employees monitor as much media as possible to make sure they receive and field as many complaints as possible.

Morgan urges customer service agents to take advantage of public forums by posting responses on behalf of your firm to the message boards.

“It shows the public that you’re listening,” she told the source.

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Frankie Saucier

Frankie Saucier is the Senior Manager of Social Media with the corporate Cox Communications social media team. She is responsible for strategy and execution of the enterprise-wide customer support presence in social media, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Google+ and the customer support forums on the Cox website. Recently, TVBlog named Cox communications #2 of the Top 10 most socially devoted brands, based on data from Socialbakers indicating our Customer Support team had a 93.5% response rate to customer inquiries on social media. Frankie is also a member of a cable partner consortium that discusses current issues in social media.