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How to handle customer complaints effectively especially when they’re irate

Gino Lisondra
03 October 2017 4 minute readShare
Angry piranhas

Irate customers are a reality in every business, and getting furious complaints from them are also inevitable. What can be avoided, however, is responding to them unprofessionally and unsatisfactorily.

There is no such thing as a perfect business. Once you’ve accepted this premise, it will be easier for you to understand that customer complaints are a reality as long as you conduct business.

No reason to panic though. Here are things to remember when responding to complaints from customers, especially irate ones:

  • Maintain a positive mindset
  • Listen proactively and respond promptly
  • Empathise and apologise
  • Own up to mistakes/issues
  • Arrive at mutually beneficial resolution

Maintain a positive mindset

Even before attending to your customer’s complaint, you need to do some psyching up to prepare yourself. Make sure you are calm and composed. Always maintain professionalism. Remember that your goal is to listen to your customer’s complaint, respond to the problem/issue, and then arrive at a mutually beneficial resolution with them.

Look past the fury. Doing this means no matter how irate or wild the behaviour of your customer is, always be the calm and composed party—as you should be. You must attend to even the most furious or negative-sounding feedback and treat each one with the same amount of attention and care as with any other complaint.

The customer is making a complaint to tell you what’s wrong, so think of it as an opportunity to improve on your products, services, and/or processes and not as a stumbling block for you and your business.

Listen proactively and respond promptly

It is not enough to just hear out what your customer has to say, but you must listen well and listen proactively.

Proactive listening means you taking into consideration all—every single thing—your customer says, and then coming up with both a speedy mitigation right after, and a long-term resolution scheme.

Your quick response involves you doing everything you can, right at the very moment, to lessen if not altogether terminate the problem/issue raised by the customer. Your long-term resolution must include a plan on how to avoid the rise of the same or similar issues/problems in the future, and then improving on the specific area that concerns the customer’s complaint.

Empathise and apologise

After your customer has completely recounted what happened and discussed the issue/problem, you then proceed by making sure you also completely understand why they’re upset and why they’re thinking and feeling that way.

If it’s a phone call, make sure your tone is composed but concerned, calm and very understanding. If you’re in a face-to-face conversation with your customer, make sure you choose your words wisely and know how to exactly say them. It’s not just what you say, but also how you say them.

In addition, be mindful of your body language. Make your customer feel comfortable; make them feel you are seriously taking note of everything they just said and you completely understand their irritation, disappointment, or anger.

Apologising—even if you think you don’t really need to or when you really don’t want to—is still absolutely necessary if you want to resolve the issue/problem with your customer. Yes, it is hard to do, but you must do it to pacify your customer’s negative feelings about your product/service.

Be sure to sound sincere and truthfully sorry when you apologise. More importantly, you have to ensure your customer you are doing everything in your power to provide him or her with the best remedy to the problem/issue the soonest you can, and then going on by telling them it will never happen again in the future.

Own up to mistakes/issues

Once you empathise and then apologise, you will be able to take into account everything about the problem/issue raised by your customer, and then come up with the quickest possible response, as well as a long-term resolution. This is you owning up to the mistake or issue. This is you telling your customer you committed an error but will do your best to make up to him or her.

Besides promising your customer an immediate response, you may also give back a portion of his or her payment, an exclusive discount, or a freebie—all these you do to pacify your customer’s feelings.  

Arrive at a mutually beneficial resolution

After hearing your customer out, looking into every detail of the complaint, and then assessing what happened, what went wrong, and how it could be responded to, you now proceed by providing a mutually satisfactory resolution. Of course, this involves both your immediate mitigation and then your long-term solution to the complaint.

If you feel and are certain that you know what will make your customer happy, advise him or her that you will be correcting the situation right away, and then inform him or her of the specific step(s) you will take to rectify the mistake. Make sure you absolutely follow through.

If you’re still unsure what your customer wants from you, or if they disagree with your proposed resolution, then ask him or her how they wish to proceed in solving the problem. You do this to make them feel you have given them the power to resolve the issue, and thus, sending a message that you are confident they know what they’re doing and are able to suggest the most satisfactory solution to the problem.

Inwardly, of course, you still need to keep a sharp sense of business, and will only proceed if the resolution your customer proposes won’t be harmful to your business.

After agreeing with your customer on a course of action, make sure to fulfill and realise all you’ve promised him or her. The last thing you want right now is disappointing your irate customer the second time. Remember, making and keeping customers happy is a must for every business.

Upon resolving the issue/problem, make sure you still follow up on your client in the succeeding days, to make sure they’re satisfied with the solution you’ve effected. If you can, go beyond their expectations by surprising them and making them even happier—a gift certificate, a free service offer, or a great discount usually does the trick!

How to handle customer complaints effectively especially when they’re irate
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Gino Lisondra

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