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A Simple Script to Handle Customer Complaints

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While there isn’t a one-solution-fits-all for dealing with customer complaints, there are some factors that must be considered in any situation where a customer complains. Having a simple script is a good start, but you must also train your employees to make the interaction personal and to let the customer know that the rep and your company cares about their concerns and is going to take action.

When customers have a bad experience that isn’t rectified, they want to take action. One way they strike back is by warning others about the company. In a survey by Zendesk, 85% of customers with a bad experience said they wanted to warn those they knew. As a service business, you already know how important your reputation is.

A Simple Script
I had an opportunity to speak with Nancy Friedman, one of the country’s top customer service experts, owner of, and the President of The Telephone Doctor Customer Service Training Inc. in St. Louis, Missouri. Friedman regularly works with businesses to improve customer relations and train employees. She had some interesting insight on some simple things your script should include. She calls this technique ASAP, which is a four-step plan to handle an irate caller.

A – This letter covers two things – acknowledge and apologize. Friedman shares, “The apology is one of the first things a customer wants. Whether they are right or wrong, it’s important to let them know you apologize on behalf of the company.”

She points out that acknowledging the person’s feelings and apologizing for the inconvenience is a key component of handling complaints. And it needs to be sincere. She adds that in today’s impersonal society it is incredibly rare to hear the words “I apologize for (state what happened). Let me get the ball rolling to fix it (Note: I’m sorry isn’t as effective as I apologize. You’re sorry when you step on someone’s toes; when the customer has a complaint it’s an apology.” Friedman advises taking notes as the person talks, so you know what their actual complaint is and can repeat it back correctly. Plus, you will have the notes as you work to solve the issue.

Chip R. Bell (, Customer Loyalty Consultant, had something similar to say about super angry customers. Not only should you use first-person with the person to apologize (I apologize), but because communicating personal empathy and concern is non-defensive. “This helps move the customer out of their fight mode. It tells a customer ready for a fight that there is no need to be aggressive,” Bell shared.

S – Sympathize. Try to put yourself in the customer’s shoes and sympathize with what he or she is going through. Some phrases you can use here include:

  • That’s so frustrating.
  • Hard to imagine what you’re going through. Friedman advises, “Pretend you are making the call. What would you want to hear?” She adds that you shouldn’t say, “I know how you feel.” People know you don’t have their exact feelings and it sounds insincere. She estimates that you’ll spend 80% of the call listening and sympathizing and about 20% solving the actual problem.

A – Accept. You should accept 100% responsibility for the call. Even if you had nothing whatsoever to do with the initial problem, you should still take responsibility. You are part of an overall team, so it doesn’t really matter whose fault the problem is, but just that it is fixed and the customer is satisfied.

P – Prepare to help. “Begin by re-introducing yourself,” Friedman advises. “Callers don’t usually remember your name.” Let the customer know you are going to help. Use the person’s name in your response if you can. Friedman points out that this simple act can help diffuse anger.

“Never make an excuse to a complaining caller. No one wants to hear ‘The computer is down’ or ‘I’m the only one here.’ Or ‘We’re short staffed.’ That is your problem, not the caller’s. When you give an excuse, the caller automatically hears ‘I’m not going to help you now.’”

Using the simple script of ASAP can help you deal with customer complaints in a professional and sincere way.

A Customer Who Won’t Calm Down
There are some occasions when a customer is so upset that he or she isn’t even rational. If the customer is demanding that you do something that just isn’t possible, use the Telephone Doctor’s Service Recovery WISH statement. Friedman explains that technique in this way:

“It’s a softer way to say, ‘We can’t do that.’ It’s a simple, ‘Mr. Smith, I wish we could do that; if there were any way that could be done, know that I would do that for you. It’s not an option we have.’”

Chip Bell pointed out that humility and empathy signal you are concerned about the person. “Keep this in mind: anger is not a primary behavior; it is a secondary behavior. The primary behavior is fear. Fear manifests as anger.”

To get past this, Bell stresses that you must show sincere empathy. “What do you do if your young child comes into your bedroom in the middle of the night frightened by a nightmare? Get in that same emotional space with an irate, irrational customer. Before you can solve their problem (or get them to help you solve their problem) you must first get them out of their irrational space. Remember; heads don’t talk to hearts; only hearts talk to hearts!”

In the extremely rare instance where you’ve tried everything and the person is still livid, Bell points out that this might not even be the type of customer you want. He jokingly says to go ahead and send them to the competition. He says, “Don’t be so concerned with social media that you fail to do the right thing. Customers from hell—those rare evil, malicious types—likely already have a reputation as a negative person that makes them not very credible to those to whom they complain about you.”

Advantages to Improving Your Complaint Response
People who are unhappy tend to complain and tell more people than satisfied customers, but you can get past that and turn a negative into a positive with a little work and focus. Bell believes that you can turn almost all complaining customers around. “It is all about demonstrating sincere caring. People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.” He advises letting the customer vent, and points out that this can also provide valuable information that will help you solve the problem.

Improving your complaint response is something that will increase customer satisfaction and retention. It also demonstrates just how much you truly do care and that your desire is to provide the best experience possible for your customers.

Lori Soard

Posted In: Customer Service

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