Handling customer complaints well can prevent investigations, lawsuits and a public relations disaster. But, not everyone has the right skill set, qualities and experience to handle the wide range of complaints that can arise.
A poor listener may never understand the root of the problem. Someone without humility may be reluctant to apologize. An employee without empathy may not be able to relate to the way a customer feels.
In this article, we’ll share ten of the most important skills an employee should possess to effectively handle customer complaints. Look for these qualities when hiring for customer service jobs.
Bonus: Download our best practices guide to learn expert strategies for handling customer complaints.
For a job that involves de-escalating issues before they become an investigation, lawsuit or lost customer, humility is essential. A humble person is not afraid to say they are sorry, and this is a big part of the job for anyone who handles customer complaints.
Angry customers are good at deciphering fake smiles and ingenuine responses. Humility is important because it makes it easier to appreciate that they may have a valid concern and by vocalizing it, the company has an opportunity to listen and improve.
Depending on the severity or topic of the complaint, an unsatisfied customer might react best to a simple, clear apology. Humble people don’t make excuses unless there is a legitimate explanation for the complaint. Sometimes, it’s best to apologize and start working on a resolution.
Without empathy, it’s difficult for a person to see a situation from someone else’s perspective. They may struggle to understand why someone is angry if they themselves would not be angry in that situation. Eventually, this person will come to think that all customer complaints are annoying and that complainants are always a nuisance.
Imagine you work at a furniture store and a customer comes in upset. They recently purchased a new dining set, brought the boxes home to assemble it, only to find that the box was missing a number of hardware pieces. While missing screws and nails may seem like a minor annoyance to most, an empathetic person can put their personal opinions aside, take on someone else’s perspective and recognize why they feel irritated.
An empathetic person can tell the customer they understand their issue and their feelings. By meeting this need, and understanding a customer’s dissatisfaction, the company will grow a loyal base and find success.
Compassion differs from empathy only slightly. Empathy is the ability to take on someone else’s perspective and feel for their situation, whereas compassionate people take it a step further. A compassionate person is motivated to relieve an unhappy person from their situation.
It’s one thing to understand why someone is mad but it’s another thing to have an urge to help relieve them from their hardship. Compassion is an important quality for handling complaints because it’s like a built-in desire to help others. For a person with this skill or quality, it feels less like work and more like the right thing to do.
Compassion will make someone want to respond quickly to unsatisfied customers, which is a great quality for someone who handles social media complaints.
Beyond empathy and compassion, anyone tasked with handling customer complaints needs to be decisive. The job’s main duty is resolving customer complaints, so the ability to make decisions to resolve complaints quickly is critical.
Complaining customers do not appreciate being put on hold or, worse, transferred from one person to the next. An already unhappy customer will grow angrier the longer they sit on hold.
Not only should the employee be able to make a decision, but they should almost always make the right one. Customers get frustrated when they are told false information or made empty promises.
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Sometimes, a final decision is out of the employee’s hands. In this case, a decisive employee knows to escalate the case and explain the next steps to the customer.
Not only should this person be decisive, but they need extensive company knowledge to handle customer complaints effectively. Every company should have a motto, values, mission and culture. Depending on these, the way an employee handles a complaint will vary, and the way the customer expects them to handle the complaint will vary too.
For example, many brands have begun using social media strategically to address complaints. If you look at companies such as Wendy’s, Old Spice and JetBlue Airlines, their employees take on an informal, friendly persona to interact with unsatisfied customers and resolve any issues they’ve experienced.
As someone who handles customer complaints, if you aren’t aware of your company’s culture for customer service, it can be difficult to respond effectively. An effective employee will know the standards set by the company regarding tone, responses and solutions.
In addition to company knowledge, this employee needs extensive knowledge of the company’s products too. Knowing about the products and services offered by the company is necessary to provide an adequate solution to an unsatisfied customer.
This is particularly the case for larger corporations that provide many products or services. For example, Walmart provides retail goods, photo printing, a pharmacy, financial services, wireless services, a vision center, custom cakes, wedding registries, auto services and more. Trying to navigate this cluster of services without adequate knowledge of the company’s offerings would be a disaster.
Plus, product knowledge will make it easy to identify scams. Unfortunately, anyone whose job it is to handle complaints will encounter a customer trying to take advantage of the company’s policies. Strong knowledge of the company’s products will help you identify when some things just aren’t possible.
With customer complaints, you never know what you’re going to get. There’s usually some form of script to follow loosely, but a vague, robotic-sounding response won’t demonstrate caring and interest in a resolution.
Monotone phrases such as “I can see why you’re frustrated” might be perceived as typical and impersonal. An employee responsible for handling customer complaints needs to be creative in their response, making it more personal and showing their distinctive qualities.
This position requires an employee who is creative and capable of personalizing their response by taking the information provided in the script and integrating that with their own, unique phrases. To effectively handle a complaint, the customer needs to know there is a human being sitting in front of them, speaking to them, or typing to them, and not a paid script-reader.
Everyone thinks they’re good at communicating, but the truth is very few are. Communication isn’t just about being able to speak, it’s about providing a timely response that is on topic and makes sense to the complainant. It’s also about being able to speak in a calm, cool manner even when the customer is not able to do so.
Plus, a good communicator knows that face-to-face communication is not all verbal. While having a positive tone is important, your communication skills extend to include visual cues as well. A good communicator knows that a nod of the head sends a far different message than crossed arms.
When responding to complaints via the telephone, employees need to be skilled in using vocal cues to make up for the lack of visual cues. Because a customer won’t know when a customer service agent is nodding, a good phone communicator throws in small verbal interjections such as “mhm” or “right” to prove they’re understanding.
Great listening skills involve allowing the customer to tell their story without interruption. If the customer is angry, which typically they are when they’re making a complaint, the employee needs to let them vent before reacting or replying. The customer needs to be calm before they can even begin to listen to the resolution.
The employee needs to be able to both listen and understand what the customer is saying. An employee can’t provide a proper resolution until they’ve really heard what the customer is saying, gathered the facts and asked the right questions.
What is it that the customer is really upset about? Sometimes this can get misconstrued. Great listening skills make it easier to uncover the real reason behind the complaint. Once the employee knows this, resolving the issue becomes easy.
When all is said and done, and the end of the workday is over, it’s necessary that a customer service agent can go home and forget about the day’s troubles. The right person for this role will know that it’s never worth dwelling over complaints and to never take anything to heart.
A good customer service agent will understand that it’s normal for customers to be angry sometimes, and that their complaints are beneficial in the long run for business. The employee will also understand that as long as they tried their best to resolve the customer’s complaint, their job is done.