Call Shari 303-863-0948 or Email Us

Contact us for virtual speaking and training!

Sales Archive

How to Handle Customer Complaints

No one likes to hear people complain, especially people who go on, and on, and on. But there is a reason people complain for longer than may seem necessary. For the most part, the people who sound like a broken record don’t feel heard. And when people don’t feel heard, they repeat themselves, again, and again, and again.

One of the first practices for how to handle customer complaints taught during customer service training is to acknowledge the other person’s concern. Demonstrate that you listened and heard. We often think that complainers want us to solve their problems. That’s not always the case. Sometimes feeling heard is enough, even if there is no resolution to the complaint.

dealing with complainers

Last week I had a horrible experience in a hotel. I called the front desk staff to voice my concerns with how an incident was handled. Her response: “Ok….ok….ok.” I wasn’t satisfied. So the next morning I spoke to the front desk manager. She responded by explaining why her staff had done what they did. Still, no apology or demonstration of understanding my frustration. So I went to the hotel general manager, who did all the right things. She listened and apologized. She didn’t defend or explain. And then I stopped escalating my complaint.

Here are a eight tips for how to handle customer complaints:

How to handle customer complaints tip #1: Resist the temptation to defend yourself, your team, or your organization.

How to handle customer complaints tip #2: Watch your tone of voice. If you sound annoyed, the other person will just become more upset and will, you guessed it, continue complaining.

How to handle customer complaints tip #3: Tell the person you’re sorry for their experience. Apologizing doesn’t mean the person is right or that you agree. You are simply sorry they had the experience they did. That could sound like, “I’m sorry that was your experience. That sounds frustrating. That’s certainly not the experience we want customers to have.”

How to handle customer complaints tip #4: Ask clarifying questions, if you need to. That could sound like, “Can I ask you a few questions, so I fully understand the situation?”

How to handle customer complaints tip #5: Paraphrase what the person said to ensure you understand the complaint and to demonstrate that you heard. Nothing sounds better to someone who is upset than another person who understands their concerns. That could sound like, “I just want to be sure I understand your concern. You’re concerned that _______ “ (repeat or paraphrase what the person said.)

How to handle customer complaints tip #6: Apologize again for the person’s experience. Often, all the person wants is an authentic apology. An apology doesn’t admit fault or wrong doing. You are simply apologizing for the person’s perception of their experience.

How to handle customer complaints tip #7:  Tell the person what action(s) you’ll take, if any. People like to know that their complaints aren’t wasted.

How to handle customer complaints tip #8:  Don’t be a black hole. Circle back to the person and let him know what action was or wasn’t taken.

The key to getting someone to stop complaining is to make the other person feel heard. Acknowledge the complaint. Watch your tone of voice. Apologize for the person’s experience. And watch people’s complaints dissipate more quickly than you thought possible.

dealing with complainers


Save Face When Making Mistakes at Work

Our company got a shipment of products this week that were partially defective. When I called our vendor to tell him about the defective products, he sighed knowingly. He knew part of our order was imperfect and waited for me to find the problems versus telling me himself.

What?!?!

I love surprise gifts, trips, and discounts. But I don’t like surprise errors and your internal and external customers don’t either.

Everyone makes mistakes at work. Making a mistake is not necessarily a problem. It’s how you deal with the error that matters more. Letting those who are impacted by a mistake be surprised damages your reputation and working relationships much more than coming clean as soon as you realize the error. Rather than waiting to get caught, tell your customers about mistakes and work together to make things right.

Here are a few ways to tell people you made a mistake, while saving face:

Fessing up to making mistakes at work tip #1: When you realize you’ve made a mistake, pick up the phone and tell the person live, as soon as you know. Don’t wait.

Fessing up to making mistakes at work tip #2: Apologize and work with your customer to develop a solution. Be part of the process. Don’t leave your internal or external customer holding the bag.

Fessing up to making mistakes at work tip #3: Don’t give a bunch of reasons or justifications for what happened. It sounds like excuse management and no one cares. Your customers just want to know how you’re going to solve the problem.

Fessing up to making mistakes at work tip #4: Say something like, “I realized we sent you a report with incorrect information. I’m so sorry. I’d like to work with you to make this right. Here are a couple of ideas of what we can do… Would any of these suggestions work for you?”

Or you could say, “I realized parts of your order are imperfect. I’m so sorry. Here’s how we’d like to make things right. Are these solutions satisfactory to you?”

Or consider saying something like, “I’ve realized we can’t fulfill your order by the date we promised. I’m so sorry. Here’s what I suggest we do to get you what you need in a timely way. Does this work for you?”

We all make mistakes. How you handle mistakes determines how your internal and external customers view you and how much they trust you. Come clean quickly. Take responsibility. Don’t provide a bunch of reasons for a mistake. Help make things right. And you’ll likely preserve your reputation and business relationships.

making mistakes at work

Business Communication Skills – Influence by Asking Questions

When selling a product, service, or idea, people often think that providing more information is better. The more data points, the more likely the other person is to be persuaded. This is not necessarily the case. Excluding data hounds, most people don’t like to be overloaded with information. But people do appreciate the opportunity to talk about what they want and need. So if you want to sell something, give people a chance to talk.

I’ll never forget one of my first sales calls, early in my career. I was selling Dale Carnegie Training. After calling a prospect for six months, he agreed to spend ten minutes with me. Feeling rushed, I laid out all of our training brochures and quickly told him about every program we offered. Then I asked if he wanted to buy anything. He didn’t.

If I had asked a few questions and listened to his answers, I could have provided information on just the training programs he needed, instead of giving him a list of likely irrelevant options.

Selling a product or service is no different from selling an idea. You are trying to persuade someone to your way of thinking. Resist the temptation to persuade solely by educating. Instead, ask questions, listen to the answers, and then tell the person what you heard her say. If you’ve taken a listening class, you learned the practice of paraphrasing what someone said. Paraphrasing is a very old, very effective practice.

People need to feel heard and understood. From my experience, asking relevant questions, demonstrating that you listened to the answers by paraphrasing what the person said, and providing pertinent and succinct information is what people need to make a decision.


Be Specific in Your Business Communication – Vague is Unhelpful

Vague communication is unhelpful. Being vague instills doubt in the people around you and reduces your credibility.

When a customer service agent answers my questions with words like, “That sounds right, I think so, or that should work,” I hang up and call back, hoping to get someone who can give me an affirmative answer. People do this to you, too…they just don’t tell you about it.

Watch your language. If the answer is yes, say “Yes.” If the answer is no, say “No.” “I think so,” says neither yes nor no. Saying, “I think so” tells people you don’t really know.

A few phrases to avoid and what to say instead:

Avoid:  “That should be done by Friday.”

Instead, be specific and give a final date. “That will be complete by Friday. If I can’t get it done by Friday, I’ll call you to let you know by 5:00 pm on Thursday.”

Avoid: “Sounds right.”

Instead, be specific and say, “That’s correct.”

Avoid: “We should be able to do that.”

Instead, be specific and say, “We can do that.”

Avoid: “I guess.”

Instead, be specific and say, “Yes” or “No.”

When I teach feedback training, the biggest thing training participants struggle with is specificity. “You’re difficult to work with.” “Your clothing is inappropriate.” “I just find you to be negative.” “You did a good job on that.” “It’s a pleasure to have you on the team.” All of this is vague and thus unhelpful to the feedback recipient. And the same is true when answering questions and making promises.

Tell people exactly what to expect. Be specific. Even if they don’t like your answer, they’ll be happy to have a clear answer.


Improving Customer Service – More Isn’t Better

Many organizations think they’re improving customer service by training sales and customer representatives to make small talk — asking how a customer’s day, week, or trip is going. Asking questions and chatting with customers about personal matters is only good customer service if clients WANT to make small talk.

When room service delivers breakfast and the hotel guest is standing in a towel, he’s probably not interested in talking about whether his trip is for business or pleasure and whether or not he’ll have time for fun while he’s in town. Improving customer service will likely require the wait person to get in and out of his room quickly. When a taxi driver talks with you when you want to work, his desire to chat probably isn’t improving customer service.

Sales and customer service representatives can also over communicate about business-related issues. Last weekend I ordered some equipment online. Shortly after placing the order, a customer service representative called me because I’d provided different billing and shipping addresses, and he wanted to be sure that someone wasn’t fraudulently using my card. Focused on improving customer service, he asked me to call back before they’d ship my item, which I needed Monday and paid $32 to have sent via overnight mail.

When I called back, I got voicemail and left a message. Then I spent the day wondering if the guy got my message and if my order would arrive on Monday. Then he left another voicemail saying that one of the items I ordered was out of stock but he thought they might have it in another color. He then called again to tell me that they did indeed have the item in a different color and asked me to call back. When I called back, I was told that my order had already shipped. Three unnecessary phone calls on a Saturday is not improving customer service.

You may be thinking this situation is an anomaly, but it happened to me again a few days later. I returned a pair of pants I bought online. I wrote a letter explaining for what item I wanted to exchange the pants. A customer service representative called to ask if I was sure about what I wanted and asked me to call back. When I returned the call, I was told that my order had already shipped.

I suspect companies think they’re improving customer service by asking how a customer’s day is going and by calling customers personally when questions arise. Perhaps I’m too busy, but having to call a vendor to tell them that I meant to order what I ordered and I really do have a separate billing and mailing address is not improving customer service. It’s time consuming and annoying.

I’m aware my preferences are not consistent with all buyers, and many customers appreciate calls from vendors and making small talk with wait staff, taxi drivers, and other service providers. But you won’t know what your customers want if you don’t ask them. Consider asking customers about their preferences when they buy something.

Here are a couple of questions you could ask, with the goal of improving customer service:

If we need to contact you, what method is best? Phone, email, or text message?

Taxi and Uber drivers, massage therapists, dentists, etc. ask, “Would you like a silent ride/visit?”

 What’s your definition of good customer service? Check all that apply.

  1. Get it done fast and right the first time.
  2. Get to know me. I’m happy to chat.
  3. Get it done right and ask all the questions you’d like.
  4. I’ll sacrifice pleasantries for speed.

Our customers don’t necessarily share our definition of good customer service. Small talk may suit some customers, while it alienates others. Read your customers’ body language and listen to their tone of voice. Do they look and sound like they want to chat with you? Do they happily provide you with detailed answers to small-talk related questions, or do they provide short answers and appear impatient? Listen, watch, and adjust your behavior accordingly. Or preferably, ask what customers are expecting from you when they buy. Ask more. Assume less.

Improving customer service


Don’t send them to yelp – Get better customer and employee feedback

Many businesses are struggling to overcome negative and permanent online reviews on yelp, trip advisor, Glassdoor, etc. And they’re wondering why customers and employees go online vs. giving feedback directly. The answer is simple.

Giving feedback online is easy. Giving feedback directly is harder, for many reasons.  No one wants to be the person who complains. Feedback is likely to be received with a defensive at worst and explanatory at best response, and who really wants to deal with that? And we fear we’ll get “in trouble” for giving feedback, etc. etc. etc. I could go on and on.

If you want your customers and employees to give you feedback directly instead of blasting you online when they’re unhappy, make it easy to give you feedback, regularly.

Here are four ways to help prevent negative online reviews and improve the data you get from customers and employees:

  1. Ask customers and employees for feedback regularly. Don’t wait until the end of the year or after a service has been provided to ask for feedback. Ask for feedback during the customer’s experience. Ask employees for feedback every 90-days. Marriott hotels is masterful at this. Hotel guests don’t get onto the hotel’s free Wi-Fi until answering one question about their hotel stay. If guest feedback has a negative component, a manager will call you immediately. Such smart business.
  2. If you’re going to send online surveys, keep them short. Never ask a customer more than five questions, and two is better. Ask a version of, “What are you appreciating about your experience? What could we change on your behalf?” What else do you need to know? Too many businesses send exhaustive and exhausting surveys to customers after a service has been provided. It’s rude and unrealistic to expect customers to complete 30+ survey questions. Keep it short. You’ll see better response rates.
  3. Call 10% (or fewer if you have thousands of employees and customers) and ask for feedback. It’s such a rare occurrence to receive a phone call asking for feedback, it’s an immediate loyalty and relationship builder.
  4. Don’t request a positive score on a survey. Sending a survey and asking for certain response type is a turnoff. Uber drivers who ask me to rate them a five never get that rating. The best way to get an awesome rating is to be awesome.

Ask for feedback early and often, and make it easy to give. P.S. And no anonymous surveys – a topic for another day.


Improving Customer Service – More Isn’t Better

Improving customer serviceMany organizations think they’re improving customer service by training sales and customer representatives to make small talk, asking how customers’ day, week, or trip is going. Asking questions and chatting with customers about personal matters is only good customer service if clients WANT to make small talk.

When room service delivers breakfast and the guest is standing in a towel, he’s probably not interested in talking about whether his trip is for business or pleasure and whether or not he’ll have time for fun while he’s in town. Improving customer service will likely require the wait person to get in and out of his room quickly. When a taxi driver talks with you, when you want return phone calls, his desire to chat probably isn’t improving customer service.

Sales and customer service representatives can also over communicate about business related issues. Last weekend I ordered some equipment online. Shortly after placing the order, a customer service representative called me because I’d provided different billing and shipping addresses, and he wanted to be sure that someone wasn’t fraudulently using my card. Focused on improving customer service, he asked me to call back before they’d ship my item, which I needed Monday and paid $32 to have sent via overnight mail.

When I called back, I got voicemail and left a message. Then I spent the day wondering if the guy got my message and if my order would arrive on Monday. Then he left another voicemail saying that one of the items I ordered was out of stock but he thought they might have it in another color. He then called again to tell me that they did indeed have the item in a different color and asked me to call back. When I called back, I was told that my order had already shipped. Three phone calls on a Saturday is not improving customer service.

You may be thinking this situation is an anomaly, but it happened to me again a few days later. I returned a pair of pants I bought online. I wrote a letter explaining for what item I wanted to exchange the pants. A customer service representative called to ask if I was sure about what I wanted, and asked me to call back. When I returned the call, I was told that my order had already shipped.

I suspect companies think they’re improving customer service by asking how a customer’s day is going and by calling customers personally when questions arise. Perhaps I’m too busy, but having to call a vendor to tell them that I meant to order what I ordered and I really do have a separate billing and mailing address, is not improving customer service. It’s time consuming and annoying.

I’m aware my preferences are not consistent with all buyers, and many customers appreciate calls from vendors and making small talk with wait staff, taxi drivers, and other service providers. But you won’t know what your customers want if you don’t ask them. Consider asking customers about their preferences when they buy something.

Here are a couple of questions you could ask, with the goal of improving customer service:

If we need to contact you, what method is best? Phone, email, or text message?

Taxi drivers, massage therapists, dentists, etc. ask, “Would you like a silent ride/visit?”

 What’s your definition of good customer service? Check all that apply.

  1. Get it done fast and right the first time.
  2. Get to know me. I’m happy to chat.
  3. Get it done right and ask all the questions you’d like.
  4. I’ll sacrifice pleasantries for speed.

Our customers don’t necessarily share our definition of good customer service. Small talk may suit some customers, while it alienates others. Read your customers’ body language and listen to their tone of voice. Do they look and sound like they want to chat with you? Do they happily provide you with detailed answers to small-talk related questions, or do they provide short answers and appear impatient? Listen, watch and adjust your behavior accordingly. Or preferably, ask what customers are expecting from you when they buy. Ask more. Assume less.

Improving customer service


Be Specific in Your Business Communication – Vague is Useless

Vague is useless. Being vague is actually worse than useless. Being vague instills doubt in the people around you and reduces your credibility.

When a customer service agent answers my questions with words like, “That sounds right, I think so, or that should work,” I hang up and call back, hoping to get someone who can give me an affirmative answer. People do this to you too, they just don’t tell you about it.

Watch your language. If the answer is yes, say “Yes.” If the answer is no, say “No.” “I think so,” says neither yes nor no. Saying, “I think so” tells people you don’t really know.

A few phrases to avoid and what to say instead:

Avoid:  “That should be done by Friday.”

Instead, be specific and give a final date. “That will be complete by Friday. If I can’t get it done by Friday, I’ll call you to let you know by 5:00 pm on Thursday.”

Avoid: “Sounds right.”

Instead, be specific and say, “That’s correct.”

Avoid: “We should be able to do that.”

Instead, be specific and say, “We can do that.”

Avoid: “I guess.”

Instead, be specific and say, “Yes” or “No.”

When I teach feedback training, the biggest thing training participants struggle with is specificity. “You’re difficult to work with.” “Your clothing is inappropriate.” “I just find you to be negative.” “You did a good job on that.” “It’s a pleasure to have you on the team.” All of this is vague and thus unhelpful to the feedback recipient.  And the same is true when answering questions and making promises.

Tell people exactly what to expect. Be specific. Even if they don’t like your answer, they’ll be happy to have a clear answer.


Increase Customer Retention and Satisfaction: I’m Losing Customers and I Don’t Know Why

Read my column in this week’s Denver Business Journal and increase customer retention, satisfaction, and service:

We’ve all had customers we thought were satisfied, and the next month they’re off our books and we don’t know why.
Your customers are under no obligation to tell you why they replaced you. In fact, they have no incentive to give you feedback. Why would customers risk your defensiveness? It’s easier for customers to disappear than tell you what they don’t like about your products or services.

If you’d like to read the column in it’s entirety, please visit: http://www.bizjournals.com/denver/blog/broadway_17th/2013/02/im-losing-customers-and-i-dont-know.html?page=all


Sign Up

Career tips
you won't get
elsewhere. Sign up
to get a free
tip card.