15. April 2021 Blog

8 steps on how to deal with customer's complaints over the phone

Dealing with customer’s complaints is one of the toughest but also most important tasks of a support agent, so it’s crucial to learn how you can deal with an angry or complaining caller without losing your cool. Here are our 8 tips on how to treat such callers calmly and professionally.

We are living in a customer-centric world. After all, without customers you can't grow your business and earn money.. And now that the market space is getting increasingly tight, companies are going out of their ways to woo consumers with exceptional customer support. Consumers know this though, so they are becoming increasingly vocal about what they want from a business, what they like, and what they don't like. 

But compared to what you might think by looking around on social media or listening to more customer's complaints on the phone, people aren't actually that quick to write negative reviews or actually make the call - 91% of customers who are unhappy with a brand will simply leave without a word. Why? Because 79% of consumers who did reach out to companies about an awful customer experience they had were completely ignored.

But while customers might not call you to say they are unhappy, they are sure to tell their friends and relatives about a poor experience - the average American tells 15 people when they've had a poor customer service experience. 

So it's pretty likely that you’ve already lost several customers due to them being unhappy with your product or service, even if you take exceptional customer service as a priority. That's why you should treat people who call with a complaint or post negative reviews exceptionally well - especially since doing so can have many surprising benefits for your business.

  • Negative reviews improve customer trust in a company - taking into account how easy it is nowadays to buy five stars reviews on social media, no wonder that customers are now actively looking for customer's complaints or negative reviews. They can actually reveal far more about a product or service than positive ones. It's just not possible for any company to have only happy and satisfied customers, with no negative reviews. Seeing such a thing only makes the website’s users suspect that either this company is deleting all negative posts or have bought the positive reviews, which means it might be untrustworthy. Meanwhile, responding to negative comments shows you are willing to listen to criticism and learn how to improve your products/services.
  • Customer's complaints and negative posts can highlight exceptional customer service - excluding all kinds of troll or spam comments, complaints or negative reviews are a customer's way of giving you "a second chance." If you respond to this by promptly reaching out to them and solving their problem, you are well on the way to boosting that person's trust in your business and turning an unhappy customer into a loyal one.
  • They give you incredible insight into what customers expect from your company - customer's complaints and negative reviews (as long as they are constructive) are an excellent source of data about how companies can make their products/services better, and improve their customer service. 

The trouble is, dealing with customer’s complaints that are written as negative reviews, posts, or emails is much easier than dealing with angry customers on the phone. 

With written criticism, you have a moment to take a deep breath, analyze the situation, and think about the best answer to the issue - you only respond after everything is prepared. But what if you get an unhappy customer on the phone who demands immediate attention?

As any call center agent will tell you, dealing with impatient or rude callers is one of the most challenging aspects of working in a call center - especially since agents answer calls like that almost every single day. It’s made even harder by agents having to respond to such calls with professionality, confidence, and calmness.  How? Here are our eight tips on how to deal with customer's complaints without ruining your own nerves.

#1 Stay Calm

When dealing with a complaining customer you have to keep a cool head, which can be tough to do. Tough because when a customer is yelling or throwing insults at you, you might want to respond in the same way - but that's the worst thing you can do. Getting upset, arguing, or yelling at the caller will only escalate the situation, which can quickly get out of your control. Instead, take a few deep breaths and remind yourself that the customer's anger isn't directed at you

Rather it is the current situation making the customer angry. For example, your service suddenly stopped working when they were having a hectic day. They are mad at the company and the product but not at you, so letting the abuse get to you will only make you more stressed.

#2 Be kind to the caller

Responding in a kind and friendly tone to them is the last thing an angry caller actually expects, so it might quickly defuse the situation. A good way to start the call with an angry or upset customer is to tell them that you appreciate them reaching out to you with their issue, and that you want to help them resolve it as quickly as possible. This shows that you are on their side and that you are ready to hear how you can help them.  Don't raise your voice in response to being yelled, since this might further rile the customer up and turn the call into an argument. 

Since responding professionally to customer's complaints and staying calm throughout a call requires a lot of practice, you can (and should) work on keeping a calm and pleasant tone of voice during difficult calls - by taking part in call center training, for example.

#3 Listen

It's true that some people call a company just because they have had a bad day and want to vent to someone who is obliged to listen to them. In such cases, it's a good idea to let the caller talk until they calm down a bit. But most callers do have an actual problem they can't solve themselves, and that's why they are phoning support. Allow them to explain the reason for their dissatisfaction and what they want you to do. In some cases, having someone who will listen will be enough to calm them down. 

That doesn't mean you have to keep listening to a caller who is threatening you or using derogatory language though. In such cases, if your company's policy allows it, end the call and report it to management.

#4 Acknowledge the matter

After you have listened to a caller's reason for phoning, acknowledge their problem as being important to you. Don't play down or dismiss their worries, as this way you are only going to make the customer feel ignored and make them even angrier. Instead, you should reassure the customer that you will do your best to help them.

A great way to do this is to confirm the main issue by repeating a summary of what the calle said. Doing so both proves to them you listened carefully to them, and gives them a moment to cool down.

#5 Apologize for the inconvenience

If a customer calls with an issue related to your product or service (shipping or billing problems, the product doesn't work as expected, the newest software update is buggy, etc.), giving a simple apology and showing understanding about why the caller is frustrated can instantly put them in a better mood and make solving their issuer much easier. 

Similarly, thanking the caller for reaching out to you with their problems or questions shows them that you are willing to help whenever they need it, and that you treat their call as an opportunity to improve your service rather than as a nuisance.

#6 Ask Questions

If the customer has calmed down a bit, you can now start asking questions about the exact worry they have at the moment and what they expect you to do. You could, of course, try to start solving the problem straight away (to end the call as soon as possible), but when you don't know what the actual issue is, you risk wasting both yours and your callers' time. 

Asking detailed questions about the customer’s current need will also help you fix the matter on the first call and thus improve customer satisfaction.

#7 Don't overpromise

The faster you can find a solution that makes everyone happy (especially your customer), the more satisfied the customer will be and the quicker you will be able to end the call and sigh with relief. However, you might fall into a trap when trying to solve an issue quickly. You should not promise the caller something that you are not sure you will be able to deliver, or give them dates by which their solution will be fixed even though you know it's unrealistic.

While the caller might be satisfied with the outcome for a while, you can either expect a second angry call when they realize you didn't keep the promise, or they’ll just move to a different company. Instead, tell them what the current situation is and what options you have to help the customer. If at the moment you can't help, tell them you will call back as soon as you have a solution to their issue.

#8 Send a follow-up email

After taking the brunt of a customer's anger, the last thing you probably want to do is contact them again. However, a simple follow-up email can show your customers that you are thinking about them and want to check if they have any additional questions or concerns. In such an email, you should thank the customer for their feedback, summarise their initial problem and how it was resolved, and ask if they have any other questions or issues with which you can help.

A follow-up mail also gives the customer an opportunity to apologize for their earlier behavior and explain why they acted in such a way.

Three typical reasons why a customer might call with a complaint (and how to answer them)

#1 The product is damaged or doesn't work as expected

The most common of all customer's complaints - the ordered product is damaged or doesn't work as they thought it would. In some cases, the damage is clearly visible (e.g. the product doesn't turn on, the software frequently crashes on, or the cover has visible signs of wear), so you can ask the customer whether they want a replacement or a refund.

The situation is a bit trickier when a customer uses the product in the wrong way. Ask them what they wanted to do with the product and then gently explain to them how to use it properly. If the customer wants to return the product because it's not what they actually needed, you can ask if they want to replace it with a different product.

#2 Lack of follow-through

This is what happens when you promise a customer they will either get their product shipped or their problem fixed by a given date - but they don’t. The situation is especially bad if the customer called or emailed you earlier and you didn't notice or forgot to respond. 

If you have an angry customer on the line with exactly this complaint, then the best you can do is explain the situation and what you can do about it. If you overpromise, then own up to your mistake, apologize, and give them an honest estimation of when their issue will be solved. If the delay is not something you can fix straight away (e.g. you still didn't get the product from the manufacturer), then explain the situation to the customer and offer to call them when you know when their issue will be resolved.      

#3 Poor customer support

Calling customer support is already quite stressful, and many things can make the experience even worse for the caller:

  • Long hold times
  • Support agents dismissing the caller’s questions or concerns
  • Being moved from agent to agent and having to repeat the question
  • Hearing two different things from two different agents

When those things happen, it's natural for callers to get frustrated and call with a complaint about the customer support agent. Apologize to the customer for the inconvenience, ask for the details about their previous support experience, and, if you can, answer their issue or complaint. 

After the call, you should also investigate what caused the poor customer experience in the first place to prevent it from happening again.

Conclusion

Having to deal with complaining callers is the daily reality of call centers. But the majority of these calls are simply asking for help - the caller has a problem they can't solve themselves, which makes them stressed, frustrated, and angry. If you can handle the call in a friendly and professional manner, you are well on your way to having loyal customers - as solving problems quickly and effectively builds trust in a company well.

But that doesn't mean that you have to keep the "customer is always right" approach at all times. If a situation gets out of hand, and the customer starts to act vulgar or threatening, you have every right to protect yourself by ending the call and reporting them to management.