a blog from CenturyLink

How to respond to a customer complaint

by | Dec 11, 2021


Good customer service is essential for successful businesses. However, it can be difficult to keep every customer happy, every time. When frustrated customers feel like their concerns have not been resolved, they often turn to online review sites, like Google, to speak out about their experience. These negative reviews can in turn deter potential customers from using your products or services. Fortunately, you can learn how to respond to a customer in ways that can resolve the conflict and prevent negative reviews. You may even increase the likelihood of that customer returning and having a better experience.

Small businesses can respond to customer complaints via social media, live chat and email when a customer reaches out for assistance online. Businesses can use these communication methods and the following tips to provide great customer service online to resolve customer complaints before they receive negative reviews or lose those customers.

A coffeeshop owner handles a customer complaint.

Provide a customer complaint response in a timely manner

Small businesses can stay on top of responses by prioritizing the complaints by the time the complaint was sent. A customer might be more patient if the business is honest about how long it can take to resolve the customer’s concern. Let the customer know that escalated issues have a certain time frame before they will receive an update.

A small business might receive online customer complaints at a higher rate during holiday seasons and special annual sales. Small businesses should create special customer service response plans to prepare for holiday shoppers. These plans should account for staffing needs, shipping and delivery times, and how to prioritize different types of customer complaints.

Offer empathy when responding to customers complaints

Customers tend to feel heard and understood when a business responds to their complaints with empathy first. Offering empathy to a customer can show that their concerns are important to the business. Empathetic statements can also show the customer that you understand their perspective and level it with enough importance to help them resolve the issue. An empathetic statement should acknowledge a customer’s emotions without judging them for feeling them. The statement should also be paired with a willingness to help the customer find solutions for their specific complaint. Examples of empathy statements to include in your small business customer complaint responses are:

  • “I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with this. I would be [insert perceived emotion] too if I had to deal with [insert complaint]. I appreciate you letting us know this has been happening, and I’d be more than happy to help you resolve this issue.”
  • “Thank you, [insert customer’s name] for letting us know that [insert issue here]. You’re right, and you shouldn’t have to deal with this. Let’s see what our options are in helping you resolve this.”
  • “Hi, [insert customer’s name]! Thank you for reaching out to us about this. I understand how [insert issue here] could be [insert perceived emotion here], but I’d be more than happy to help you fix this.”

Ask probing questions when responding to customers complaints

It’s important to ask the customer probing questions before you plan to address the customer’s complaint. Asking both open and closed-ended questions can help you fully understand what the customer needs and help you get to the root of what’s causing the customer’s complaint. Open-ended questions require the customer to explain the details of their complaint. Closed-ended questions can help the business representative confirm details with one-word answers. Use these examples to respond to a customer complaint:

Open-ended questions include:

  • “How can I help you today?”
  •  “Can you tell me about a time this has happened before?”
  • “How long has this been going on for?”

Close-ended questions include:

  • “What’s your order number?”
  • “When date did you send your return back?”
  • “Was there anything wrong with the product?” 

A florist takes notes about a customer issue over the phone.

Conduct research for a thorough customer complaint response

Once you’ve grasped a complete understanding of the customer’s complaint, look through your resources to find solutions. Your small business might already have guidelines that should be followed for certain issues. You might also have to reach out to another business partner to get more information about the issue. It’s important to research your options quickly so that the customer doesn’t have to wait long for a response. If you stay engaged with the customer while you’re researching solutions, it can provide them with a sense of comfort because they know that their complaint is being addressed. Some social media platforms have instant messaging features for businesses to provide quick responses. Some social media response examples that you can use on different platforms are:

  • “Hi, [customer’s name]! We’re deeply concerned to hear about your recent experience with us and appreciate you bringing it to our attention. That’s not the service we expect. Please DM us your order number so that we can help you resolve this issue.”
  • “Hi, [customer’s name]! Thanks for letting us know you’re having this issue. We’ll need to look into this to see what’s going on. Can you do us a favor and message us your order number?”
  • “Hi, [customer’s name]! Thank you for giving us the details of the problem with your order. We did some research on our end and fixed it for you [insert the actual resolution, such as refunded your order]. Let us know if there’s anything else we can do for you!”

Keep your responses short so that they’re not truncated on social media platforms that have character limits. State the customer’s name, offer empathy and appreciation and probe for more details.

A carpenter reaches a solution with a customer and solves their complaint.

Respond to your customer with solutions

Narrow down the best solutions to offer the customer based on your research. You should weigh the costs and benefits of the solutions if more than one applies to the customer’s complaint. You can also ask the customer which solution they would like to have if you feel the solutions offer the same level of value. Try not to provide the customer with more than three solutions because too many solutions can confuse and further irritate the customer.

Last words

Learning how to respond to a customer is important for every small business. By communicating with your customers, responding with empathy, and asking both open and close-ended questions, you can work to provide the best solutions for your customers. For more on small business, visit the Small Business section of the CenturyLink Discover blog.

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