7 tips for dealing with complaints

by Vincent Franklin on

Here are 7 approaches to complaints that can really make a difference to the results you get.

1. Act fast

We all like to be acknowledged, even if it’s only a nod in the street. And when we’re cross, this matters even more. If someone doesn’t get back to us immediately, we assume we’re being ignored. So act fast. Even if you can’t sort out the problem there and then, let the customer know what you’re doing to help them and when they can expect to hear from you again.

Assuming you can’t fix the problem instantly, try: I will look into what has happened and will call you tomorrow morning.

Sent immediately, this promises action and manages expectations as to when – and how – the customer will receive a response. It also gives you time to find out what really happened so you can handle the rest of the complaint more effectively.

2. Acknowledge the problem

Start with the fundamentals. Acknowledging that something is wrong is the first step towards making someone feel you care. It also focuses your mind on what you are trying to address, so you’re likely to be more effective.

Try: I am sorry to hear that your credit card was refused, even though you have not exceeded your credit limit.

The key here is including the detail that the credit limit was not exceeded. That’s what the customer is really upset about. We can all accept a card being refused when we’ve played fast and loose with our spending. But getting to a till only to have the shop assistant tell you your card has been declined is public humiliation. Looked at this way, you know that you are dealing with hurt pride as well as irritation with the system.

3. Apologise properly

When someone says ‘I’m sorry’, you believe them. When someone says ‘I would like to apologise on the finance department’s behalf’, you don’t. That’s just shifting blame. Make sure your customer feels you are sincere and that you care about them.

4. Share what’s gone wrong

People who understand why something happened are more likely to be forgiving. So give them some context. They don’t need chapter and verse, but enough to feel informed. But this tip comes with a health warning: make sure you sound as though you are being open and not defensive. It’s a fine line.

Try: Unfortunately, a technical problem after an upgrade to our system means that everyone who is within £250 of their credit limit cannot currently use their card.

The customer now understands what happened. While this may not make them happier, it sets the tone for how you are dealing with them. By being open, you are treating them as an equal.

5. Be specific

Address the actual problem the customer raises. No one wants to feel they have been fobbed off with your standard response. Be concrete. Tell people what you are doing about their problem, and what they can expect and when.

Try: Our technical team is working on the problem and we expect it to be fixed by 11am today. Until then, we have temporarily raised your credit limit to £2,000 so you can use your card again.

This lets the customer know that action is being taken and sets expectations around when the problem will be sorted out. By giving them the temporary fix of raising credit limits, you are also addressing their immediate problem while working on the longer-term solution.

6. Remember, not everyone is the same

People respond to different things. Some want you to sympathise with them. Others want to see things are being done. Others want a plan of action. Make sure what you say doesn’t only work for one type because you’re bound to frustrate the others.

Try: I am sorry that you were not able to buy the present for your nephew, even though you had not exceeded your credit limit. I realise that not being able to use your credit card so close to Christmas has been very inconvenient.

Unfortunately, a technical problem after an upgrade to our system means that everyone who is within £250 of their credit limit cannot currently use their card.

We are addressing the problem urgently.

  • Our technical team is working round the clock on the problem and we expect it to be fixed by 11am today.
  • Until then, we have temporarily raised your credit limit to £2,000 so you can use your card again.
  • If you sign up to our alert service, we can send you updates of our progress, and let you know as soon as the problem is fixed.

The first paragraph empathises with the customer and acknowledges why they are upset, appealing to people who want you to be sympathetic. The rest gives context and outlines what is being done in a structured way, appealing to people who want to see a plan of action with clear goals.

7. Keep your promises

If you say you’re going to call the next morning, do so. If you say you will send something, make sure it goes. Breaking promises undermines everything else you do and say.


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