A customer complaint is a gift.
Are you surprised to hear that?
Well, even The Huffington Post agrees with us.
In a recent article discussing Janelle Barlow’s hot book about business and customer service, “A Complaint Is a Gift,” they strongly emphasized the importance of receiving feedback, especially negative feedback from your customers.
Do you agree that customer complaints are a good thing?
While most people view customer complaints negatively, it’s refreshing to hear someone say the complete opposite. Indeed, if we look at complaints as a way for us to improve our customer service, then they certainly are gifts.
All right, so if we value a customer complaint as the way forward (the right direction) in business, let’s look at how to turn these complaints into a positive experience for our customers and our businesses.
How to Set the Tone When Responding to Customer Complaints
No matter what industry we’re in, the customer is a VIP, or Very Important Person. So, what should we do when this Very Important Person tells us they’re unhappy with some aspect of our business?
There’s no need to panic. You need to stay calm and composed (controlled, professional) when dealing with someone who’s upset or angry. By using a polite and diplomatic tone, you can show the customer that you really want to find out what the problem is and help them fix it the best way you can.
How do you do this?
The answer is simple. It has to do with the language and tone of voice that you use, plus seven proven steps for handling customer complaints that I’m going to share with you today.
Use the business English language structures that I’ve listed below for each of the seven steps, and I promise you’ll be on your way to handling any customer complaint like a professional, even if English isn’t your native language.
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7 Proven Steps to Handling Business Complaints Skillfully in English
1. Acknowledge the Customer’s Emotions
Let’s face it, a customer with a complaint isn’t a happy customer.
An unhappy customer may display a range of emotions. Some customers may be upset, disappointed, annoyed or even very angry.
But no matter how emotional your customer feels, you must be sure that you stay calm and understanding. Acknowledge their complaints and feelings by listening actively and with an open mind.
Have patience, and try to understand how they’re feeling.
Words like understand, appreciate and feel will show you’re sincere and genuinely (really) interested in listening to them, and that you care about their feelings.
(1) I understand that you’re upset/unhappy about your + purchase/order/item.
(2) I appreciate how you must feel about + the problem.
Sample sentence: I appreciate how you must feel about having waited two weeks for the replacement part.
2. Collect Information About the Problem
Before you can solve the customer’s problem, you need to understand the background of what actually happened. Get the customer to explain the problem, ask relevant and meaningful questions and gather the information you need to have a complete picture.
(1) Please tell me the problem you’re having with your + purchase/order/item.
Using the form of a question, and a modal verb such as could will help soften your tone and make you sound more diplomatic.
(2) Could you please tell me exactly what happened when you… ?
Sample sentence: Could you please tell me exactly what happened when you turned this computer on?
3. Apologize to the Customer
If the customer is unhappy, we should simply apologize.
It doesn’t matter who or what is at fault. You’re apologizing for the fact that the customer found some aspect of your business unsatisfactory.
(1) I’m so sorry for the inconvenience.
(2) I’m sorry to hear about your experience.
(3) Please accept my apologies.
4. Offer a Solution
If you can offer the customer a solution right there, you should do so. The verbs going to and will indicate certainty. Only use them if you’re very sure.
(1) I + will/am going to + give you + a replacement/refund.
Some problems can’t be resolved on the spot. If you need to investigate the problem, explain this to the customer. The phrasal verb look into is used when the problem needs to be investigated or examined more closely.
(2) I will look into + this/what’s causing this to…
Sample sentence: I will look into what’s causing the unit to shut off on its own.
If the investigation is likely to take some time, let the customer know when they can expect to hear from you.
(3) I will + contact you/let you know/get in touch with you + tomorrow/when I have more info/after we take care of it.
Sample sentence: I will contact you tomorrow when I have more information about the problem.
5. Take Action to Correct the Problem
If you can solve the problem immediately, you should go ahead and solve it. Customers don’t like to be kept waiting.
(1) Let me + send/give + you + a replacement/refund.
If you can’t solve the problem, find someone in your company who can. Again it’s good to let your customer know what you plan to do, and when they can expect to hear from you. Get back to is a phrasal verb that’s used to tell someone that you’ll contact them again.
(2) Let me find out what happened to your + order/item + and I will get back to you + shortly/later today/as soon as I can.
The solution to some problems may be out of your control. Instead they may involve staff or assistance from other departments or companies (for example, problems with shipping or supplies). That’s okay as long as you let the customer know.
(3) I will have someone take care of it.
To take care of something means to handle, solve or deal with something. In this case, you’re having another staff member work on the customer’s problem to help find a solution.
6. Keep the Customer Updated
If the problem is likely to take time to resolve, it’s not a good idea to keep the customer waiting for extended periods of time. Be sure to keep them updated from time to time about the progress so they will feel reassured that you haven’t forgotten their problem.
(1) I have an update for you regarding your + purchase/order/item.
Sample sentence: I have an update for you regarding your order. We have your replacement unit ready to be shipped out to you this morning. You should be receiving it in 2-3 days.
To inform the customer about what you’re doing about their case, the present progressive tense is best used to describe work that’s currently ongoing.
(2) Right now, we’re working on your + order/ item.
Sample sentence: Right now, we’re working on your item. We just have a few more tests to run. Once everything’s okay, we’ll be in touch again.
You could also use other present progressive verbs to give different updates about your current actions:
We’re checking to see when the new stock will arrive.
We’re talking to our overseas supplier.
It’s best to use the modal verb should if there’s any likelihood (chance) that you’ll be able to get the problem resolved but you’re not 100% sure when.
(3) We should be able to get your problem resolved (soon/in a couple of days/within this week).
7. Follow-up After the Problem Has Been Solved
We may think that once a customer’s complaint has been resolved, we can close the case and that’s it. Our job is done and we can sit back. But there is one final, very important step, and that is to ensure the customer is satisfied with the outcome of their complaint.
Are they happy with how you handled their complaint? Are they satisfied with the solution you have offered? How do you leave them with a good impression of your company?
It’s easy. Follow up with them after the problem has been resolved. Let them tell you.
(1) I wanted to check if you received the help you needed.
(2) Did everything work out to your satisfaction?
(3) Is there anything else I can help you with?
There you have it, the essential business English language structures for each of seven steps to follow in settling any customer complaint smoothly and professionally.
I hope that you’ll now be able to handle customer complaints more confidently even if English isn’t your native language.
Remember that a smile and a diplomatic tone of voice when dealing with any customer complaint makes all the difference.
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