One of the rules of retail is that the customer is always right — even when they’re technically wrong. Your customers are the reason that you’re in business, so it’s important to listen to them when they have a complaint. And those complaints happen in all shapes and sizes in every single business.
Dealing with customer complaints takes a certain amount of tact and sensitivity, and ignoring the bad that comes along with the good can not only hurt your bottom line, but also your reputation. How you deal with a negative situation can mean the difference between not just losing a sale, but losing a customer in the future.
The cost of poor customer service
According to Help Scout, at least one-third of Americans said they would consider switching companies after just a single instance of poor service. Not only that, but 51% of customers will never do business with a company again after just one negative experience. And thanks to poor customer service, it’s estimated that U.S. companies lose more than $62 billion a year.
On the flip side, 77% of customers would recommend a business to a friend after having a positive experience with a company. As retailers, it’s up to you to turn their negative experiences into something positive through how you react to their complaints. Don’t view the customer as part of the problem, but instead as part of the solution, and it’s easier than you might think.
How to cope with customer complaints
Below are 12 tips to help you deal with complaints as efficiently — and tactfully — as possible.
1. Put your emotions aside
It’s normal to feel a little bit defensive when a customer has a complaint about your products or services, but don’t take offense to what they’re saying and escalate the situation. The customer has something they need to get off their chest — they’re frustrated, they’re disappointed — and they’re often emotional. Let them get their emotions out and then calmly proceed with a solution.
2. Research the situation
There are two sides to every story — and every complaint — so make sure that you have all of the facts before offering up a resolution. A customer might be trying to get something for free and exaggerating the negative interaction they’ve had in your store, or maybe they’re genuinely confused about why they received the product they’ve received.
There are many ways that miscommunication can come into play, so research the claim and then proceed with all the facts necessary to address the situation.
3. Don’t challenge their complaint
When a customer comes to you with a complaint, it may be tempting to tell them that they’re wrong — because let’s be honest, sometimes they are. But even if they’re completely off base with their claim, telling them so isn’t going to do anything to diffuse the situation. In their own way, they’re trying to help. The worst thing you can do is argue with them.
Instead of challenging them and making them even more frustrated, hear them out and move on to the next point.
4. Give them the benefit of the doubt
Most of the time, the customer is genuinely unhappy with a product or service and not just trying to get something for free (although that happens as well).
There’s a fine line between keeping customers happy versus being too generous and hurting sales, and it will be different for every situation. But the common theme is that you should give them the benefit of the doubt — maybe they really did lose their receipt or think the product they received looks different than what they saw online.
That doesn’t mean you simply glaze over the situation if it could be theft. Give the customer store credit to curb any potential loss and try to retain them as a customer.
FURTHER READING: Learn more about types of retail shrinkage like theft and how to prevent it.
5. Really listen and offer support
According to NewVoiceMedia, feeling unappreciated is the No. 1 reason customers switch products or services. That’s why it’s critical that you listen to their complaint. Are they upset with a store policy? Did something take too long for them? Was the product different from what they had in mind? By listening to what they have to say, you can suggest a variety of ways to address their concerns and support them. And remember: It's not always money or refunds that make them happy; sometimes, they just want to feel truly heard.
6. Implement a resolution process
You have processes for your business when it comes to training, ordering, and stocking, so why not have a process for resolving customer complaints? While every situation is different, it can be helpful to train your employees — and remind yourself — about how a negative situation should be approached.
There are various software solutions that help to track, organize, and resolve customer complaints and maximize the productivity of the employees who deal with customers directly. Some of the software options include:
- Zendesk: Big names like Uber, Groupon, Box, Airbnb, and Disney use Zendesk. The tool aims to lower support costs, resolve customer issues across channels, and increase customer satisfaction as a result.
- Kadabat: This tool helps retailers create workflows to automate complaint management.
- FreshDesk: Track and manage customer complaints coming in through phone, email, chat, Twitter and Facebook or your mobile app.
Regardless of whether you use software or simply create a section in your employee training manual that outlines these proactive steps, determine how well your business handles complaints effectively, and use that information to determine where you need to improve your customer complaint procedure and how things should be handled going forward.
7. Be flexible
While establishing a resolution process is helpful, it’s also important that you remain flexible when dealing with customer complaints. No two situations are going to be exactly the same, and what works for one customer might not work for another.
If you’ve gone through your resolution checklist and the customer isn’t happy with your proposed solution, consider how else you can turn a negative interaction into a positive one. Perhaps that’s offering an equivalent product or service (like exchanging a product they aren’t happy with for a similar one), or a $10 gift card to a local bakery rather than store credit.
8. Let them feel as if they’ve won
As Derek Sivers, founder of CD Baby said, “The single most important thing is to make people happy. If you are making people happy as a side effect, they will be happy to open up their wallets and pay you.”
Even if they’re wrong — if they ordered the wrong size or didn’t read your return policy — it’s your job to make sure the customer feels like they’ve won so you can retain them as a customer. You may not be able to completely rectify the cause of the customer’s anger, but you can invite them to talk about potential alternatives that work for them. You can also suggest possibilities as appropriate for the situation.
You might have lost a few bucks on the sale, but remember that it’s five to 25 times more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to keep a current one.
FURTHER READING: Keeping your customers coming back is about more than giving into their demands. Try these customer retention strategies to keep your customer base strong.
9. Thank them
It may sound a little odd to thank a customer for complaining, but they’re actually doing you a great service. If complaints about customer service are widespread, there’s clearly an issue that needs to be addressed. Long lines, check out issues, or delays? It could be that you need to improve your processes. If there are high return rates on a certain item, there might be an issue with quality control.
By bringing these concerns to your attention, that customer is giving you an opportunity to improve your business — even if they don’t realize it.
Swallow your pride and apologize, even if you technically haven’t done anything wrong. Your goal is for the customer to walk away feeling that you appreciate them and their concerns. Explain that you genuinely want the chance to make it right and retain them as a loyal customer. Let them know you're sorry they were inconvenienced or disappointed, and that you’ll do everything in your power to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
11. Follow up with the customer
When all the dust has settled on the situation, think about how you can further support customers who complain. One way to accomplish this is to have someone in upper management to follow up with customers one to two days after they complained.
If you have their information in your system, surprise them with a hand-written note. If you have their phone number, give them a call to check in to see if your solution worked for them. They’ll appreciate knowing that you took their concerns to heart and haven’t brushed them off.
12. Don’t dwell on the situation
Finally, remember that complaints are going to happen and that you can’t dwell on every negative experience. There are going to be customers that won’t be happy no matter what you say or do.
The key is to address the situation, figure out how to avoid it in the future, and then move on to running your business in the most effective — and profitable — way possible.
Resolve your customer complaints in no time
While dealing with angry customers and customer complaints can be stressful for retailers, this is an inevitable part of operating a business. However, if you can tackle customer complaints with some of these strategies paired with empathy and tact, it’s possible to turn negative situations around to keep customers loyal.
Dealing with customer complaints FAQ
What are 3 strategies for dealing with customer complaints?
- Acknowledge and Apologize: Make sure to show the customer that you understand their complaint and apologize for any inconvenience.
- Listen and Take Notes: Carefully listen to the customer’s complaint and take notes to ensure that you understand and resolve the issue.
- Offer a Solution: Offer the customer a solution that is fair and reasonable. If appropriate, provide a refund, discount, or exchange. Be sure to follow up and confirm that the customer is satisfied with the resolution.