How should you handle complaints on the phone?

To Handle Complaints on the Phone-Best 14 Tips For Employees | The Enterprise World

Is there anything more nerve-wracking at work than answering the phone to an angry customer who wants to complain?

These calls are unpredictable, they can be volatile depending on the customer’s mood, and they can be distressing for the person on your team dealing with them. So if this type of call is there then you should handle complaints on the phone or on that call.

In part, it’s because many employees aren’t trained in dealing with complaints or diffusing situations on the phone. Therefore in this article, you will understand some tips to handle complaints on the phone.

We know this because we’ve done our research.

In a survey, we found that being worried about answering the phone to an unhappy customer is among the top three reasons employees don’t like answering the phone at work.

Another third said they were worried they wouldn’t know how to deal with the enquiry or complaint, angering the customer even more.

But despite 60% of employees reporting that training would help them be more confident on the phone, more than three quarters said they’d had no training from their employer.

With that in mind, Andy MacGregor, managing director at virtual receptionist provider Face For Business offers advice on the best way to handle customer complaints on the phone.

Here are the Best 14 Tips For Employees To Handle Complaints on the Phone

1. Make sure you listen

It can be easy to zone out when you’re on the phone.

And when you have an angry customer on the other end of the line, it’s common for your mind to wander as you panic and try to think of what you will do.

But this is the time to take a breath and listen closely to what the customer is telling you.

Failing to listen at this point will get the rest of the conversation off to the worst start, killing any chance you had of defusing the problem. 

o Handle Complaints on the Phone-Best 14 Tips For Employees | The Enterprise World

2. Don’t over apologise

It’s fine to apologise to your customer if they’ve experienced an inconvenience due to your previous service or are having a problem with your product.

But don’t go over the top thinking you need to apologise constantly.

Customers haven’t called looking for an apology. They’ve called to resolve a problem.

3. Be empathetic

Rather than constantly apologise, instead try to empathise with your customer and be understanding.

Phrases like: “I agree that’s a problem, now let’s see how we can fix it” are much better than “I’m sorry, again.”

Plus, it can help you build some rapport with the customer if they believe you’re on their side and are genuinely interested in assisting them in resolving a problem.

4. Stay calm (don’t be emotional)

This can be easier said than done, especially when a customer is angry or confrontational.

In fairness to customers, it’s a minority who become abusive when complaining, but it does happen.

As difficult as it might be, stay calm.

Don’t get caught up in the customer’s emotion because you could easily find yourself coming across angry and annoyed in return, and this won’t solve anything.

Keep your emotions under control and calmly deal with the customer.

5. Remain friendly

Again, this is easier said than done with some callers, but retaining a friendly tone can be a simple way to diffuse an angry customer.

People tend to mirror the tone of the person they’re talking to on the phone.

If you remain calm, friendly and professional, most customers will eventually calm down and reasonably deal with you.

6. Understand the cause of the problem

Understanding the cause of the problem is one of the most important tips when you handle complaints on the phone. Getting to the main cause of the problem is the first step to fixing it, but it’s important you be specific with the customer.

You need to know exactly what the problem is.

Being vague at this point will make it unlikely you’ll resolve a customer’s problem to any satisfactory level.

Take some time to talk to the customer, and ensure you understand all the details you can of what’s going wrong.

Understand the cause of the problem-To Handle Complaints on the Phone-Best 14 Tips For Employees | The Enterprise World

7. Understand what they’ve already tried to solve it

As well as understanding the problem, you must understand how the customer has already tried to resolve the issue on their own.

Many customers may not have done anything. They’ll have just called you.

But the last thing you want to do is offer a customer a bunch of solutions they’ve already tried.

At least by understanding what steps they’ve taken to resolve the problem on their own, you can focus on providing new answers.

8. Use helpful language (don’t just say you don’t know)

Anyone calling a helpline or a complaints line is doing so with the expectation that they’ll resolve an issue.

They think – reasonably – your business (as the experts in your product and services) should be able to provide answers.

It’s not always as simple as this, obviously, and the first person who answers the phone may not be the best person to help.

But the last thing you should say to a customer when you can’t immediately help them is just “I don’t know”.

Instead, always use helpful language that can at least reassure them that you’re looking for a solution, even if you don’t know immediately.

Phrases like “I can look into that for you” or “Let me check that” are much better to use.

9. Be honest and don’t over-promise

Having said that, one of the worst things you can do with a customer looking to complain, or with a problem they’re annoyed about, is over-promise results,

It can be easy to do.

You’ve got an angry customer. You want to calm them down, so you glibly tell them: “Don’t worry, we’ll sort this out now”.

Next thing you know, the problem is more complicated than you thought, and you can’t immediately help.

And the customer is angrier than before.

The best policy is to be helpful, but be honest, always.

10. Be clear what you’re doing

If you’re helping a customer directly on the phone, it’s vital you communicate clearly and update them on precisely what you’re doing.

Leaving silent gaps in the conversation while you’re doing things can leave the customer agitated if they feel they’re being made to wait too long without a response.

Instead, provide clear direction of what you’re doing, give updates if it’s taking a while, and be very clear on next steps, like if you need to put them on hold or transfer them.

But, that does lead us to our next piece of advice…

11. Try to avoid putting customers on hold for a long time

Sometimes it’s unavoidable, but you should try not to put customers on hold (especially for a long time) if they’re making a complaint or have a problem.

If you do need to put them on hold, tell them, and ask permission before doing so.

If the problem is taking longer to solve than you thought, get back on the call, thank the customer for waiting (don’t apologise) and give an update on what you’re doing.

12. Resolve the issue as fast as you can

This one goes without saying, but if a customer has a problem or wants to complain, you want to deal with it as quickly as possible.

Get the information you need and then offer a solution.

If you can’t help, get the customer on the phone with the person who can help.

A fast resolution can de-escalate a complaint, or talk a customer down from making a complaint if they’ve got a problem but you help them quickly.

13. Follow up

Many businesses overlook this step, but it’s arguably the most important.

Once you’ve finished the call with the customer, be sure to follow up with them to ensure the problem is still resolved, or to understand how they feel having spoken with your business.

This can be good to make the customer feel valued that you’ve got back in touch.

But it can also be highly valuable for understanding the sentiment towards your customer service.

14. Dealing with complaints can be a win for your business

While it can be hard to see customer complaints as anything but a problem, it presents an opportunity to turn a situation around, and can even help you retain customers for longer.

Dealing with complaints successfully can actually solidify your reputation with customers.

To Handle Complaints on the Phone-Best 14 Tips For Employees | The Enterprise World

Sure, things might go wrong from time to time, but customers will forgive that if they know you’re on the ball and quick to deal with serious issues when they arise,

And even better if you can de-escalate a problem before it turns into a major problem.

The worst thing you can do as a business is see a complaint as simply a problem that needs to be dealt with.

Like any customer interaction, a complaint is just another opportunity to deliver great service.

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