How do you know you’re handling customer complaints the right way? Take the real world encounter I recently had as an example. I bought a pair of shoes knowing I would need to break them in. However, the sixth time I wore them was on a 10 minute walk to the grocery store and by the time I returned home, my heels were so cut up that I had to wear backless shoes for a week.

Infuriated by the whole experience, I wrote a letter (as calmly as possible) to the customer service department and attached a picture of my cut up foot.

Even though I will never buy shoes from this company again, they still had me walking away with an overall positive impression — proving that there is a right way and a wrong way to handle customer complaints.

How did the shoe company do it? It’s all in the approach:

  1. Over-Deliver on Response Time
    Customers expect instantaneous responses. If a company cannot accommodate this expectation, it needs to offer some sort of timeline. Initially, the shoe company auto-replied that they’d respond to my email within three to four days. However, the actual response time was within 24 hours, making it a pleasant and unexpected surprise. This was a B2C interaction, but B2B customer service is held to the same standards. Software resellers have our feet even closer to the fire— no one wants to lose valuable work hours due to malfunctioning software. If your team is smaller, rapid responses can be difficult to keep up with, but there are reasonable software programs out there to help manage. All CRM’s have built-in customer service functions, but Zendesk, for example, is a CRM program exclusive to the needs of customer service, and it integrates with Gmail to keep customer interactions more proactive.  Or, if you already have a CRM in place, there are extensions available that offer similar functionality. One of these is TAI’s own SugarCRM Advanced Support Manager (for SugarCRM users).
  2. Take the Time to Show You (Truly) Understand
    The shoe company sent the perfect reply to my complaint. Instead of trying to fix the problem right off the bat, the representative first sent a message apologizing for my dissatisfaction and promising that my concerns would be brought up to the company’s corporate board.  Who knows if that will actually happen, but the sentiment validated me and made me feel like an important customer. Many times, we want to jump to “how can I fix this?” but that’s actually the second step. More than anything, the customer wants you to take the time to understand their complaint. With the lines of communication open, you can not only resolve your customer’s issues, but also have more concrete takeaways to prevent similar occurrences in the future.
  3. Offer an Acceptable Solution
    The company offered me a full refund (including tax) in the form of a gift card. Even though I would have preferred a cash reimbursement, the interactions that led up to the solution softened the blow. You won’t always be able to provide the “ideal” solution for your customer.  Software resellers, for example, have to abide by the policies of the software companies they represent. If you can’t offer the perfect solution, you can at least facilitate the quickest, most sincere, most proactive approach. The hope is that, with sincerity and efficiency, you can handle the complaint in a way your customer appreciates.  
  4. Don’t Forget About Social Monitoring
    After the complaint has been resolved, and even before the next one occurs, it’s important to monitor the conversation around your product/service on social media. As marketers and sales professionals, we’ve seen firsthand the power of word-of-mouth. Unfortunately, that word-of-mouth travels much quicker when the conversation is negative. Use your business software tools to track social interactions and respond to complaints directly. Unlike email, the interaction is public, so your potential to astound and amaze with your stellar customer service is amplified for all to see. Don’t cheat yourself out of this free PR opportunity! Show everyone that you excel at handling customer complaints, the right way.
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