How to Turn Complaints around in Customer Service

September 23rd, 2014


In the conclusion of our series on How To Become A Better Customer Service Representative, we offer advice from Gregory Ciotti.

Customer complaints can have lasting effects on a company if customer service representatives do not handle them properly. Believe it or not, negative comments from customers can be turned around into customer loyalty. According to a study by the Jim Moran Institute and Lee Resources:

  • Resolve a complaint in the customer’s favor and they will do business with you again 70% of the time
  • Up to 95% of customers will give you a second chance if you handle their complaint successfully and in a timely manner.

So how can you turn these complaints into opportunities for your company?

According to the blog post, 15 Tips for Successfully Handling Customer Complaints by Gregory Ciotti, there are several ways you as a customer service representative can seize these opportunities. Here’s our top five ways to handle tricky customer service situations:

DON’T be Passive:

From the customer’s standpoint, hearing the phrase, “We’re sorry that you are having this problem,” is pretty infuriating .The thing is, many small business owners use this sort of language by accident.  Even though they’re trying to apologize to a customer, they’re actually coming off as demeaning or dismissive. Instead, just say you’re sorry. Even if the customer is being unreasonable, apologize outright and ask how you might help resolve the issue.

Identify What Sort of Complainer They Are:

A recent academic publication on customer complaints presents a strong case for categorizing complainers through a selection of archetypes that most customers fall into when voicing their concerns.

  • The Meek Customer: Generally averse to complaining, but warrants a mention because you may need to inquire deeper to get them to reveal exactly what is wrong.
  • The Aggressive Customer: Outspoken and not shy about letting you know what’s on their mind. Your best bet is to avoid being aggressive back and instead react with “What else may I help you with?” Show that you’re ready and willing to hear them out.
  • The High Roller: Your “enterprise” customer; they likely pay you well and demand premium support for it. While no customers are fond of excuses, this customer hates hearing them.
  • The Chronic Complainer: This customer will contact you a lot, but that doesn’t mean that their issues should be dismissed. Patience is required here, but once satisfied this customer will have no qualms about singing your praises to others.
  • The Barnacle: Although the publication identifies this type as the “rip-off” customer, I find the barnacle label to be more accurate. This customer is never happy and isn’t really looking for a satisfactory response; they are just trying to get something they don’t deserve. Everything is not good enough unless they’re getting a handout, and your best bet is to maintain your composure and respond as objectively as possible.

As you likely noticed, these are the extremes that you’ll encounter. The average customer complaint will be far more moderate, but it’s important to recognize these potential personas when putting your tried-and-true customer service skills into practice.

Give Credence to Each Customer:

“Treat every customer as if they have 10,000 Twitter followers.”- Myers Barnes

Barnes’ quote drives home the overarching point that each customer should be treated as if they have a large following.
It’s a given that every once in a while you’re going to run across those “barnacle” customers who will never be satisfied enough to not complain. It’s good business sense to give them very little of your time, but you should still view every potential customer interaction as if the customer has a broad audience at their disposal. This will safeguard your business from many potentially disastrous mishaps.

Transfer them Quickly, but Explain Why:

No one wants to hear, “Please hold while we transfer you. Your call is very important to us.”

Never miss an opportunity to briefly explain to a customer why this transfer will be to their benefit. It’s hard to get any customer happy or excited about being transferred, but consider the two choices you have:

  • You are getting transferred. “Well, this stinks!”
  • You will be transferred to our ____ specialist who can better answer your question. “Well … okay, then!”

Without this brief but relevant insertion, customers won’t know that you are actually trying to do the right thing.

CARP Diem:

A really useful method for consistently handling upset customers can be found in Robert Bacal’s book If It Wasn’t for the Customers I’d Really Like this Job. Bacal’s practices are known as the CARP method, which consists of:

  • Control
  • Acknowledge
  • Refocus
  • Problem solve

In other words, take control of the situation with language that shows you are ready to handle customer concerns and don’t intend to play any games. Acknowledge that you completely understand their concerns and won’t be brushing them off.

Next, refocus away from their emotions to the problem at hand, outlining how you’ll take care of it. Finally, solve the problem they initially came to you with, confirming that everything has been resolved to their satisfaction.

What are some other ways you can handle difficult customer service situations? Tell us by commenting below!

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