How to Handle Customer Complaints: 15 Tips to Help You Turn Customers from Detractors to Promoters

Want to really understand how to effectively handle customer complaints? Start by putting yourself in the customer’s shoes.

Think back to the last time you had a problem with something you purchased.

Perhaps the product didn’t fit or work as expected, and you wanted to make a return. Maybe you got stuck during an onboarding flow of a new software program, and needed someone to help you figure out how to set up your account. Whatever it was, when you called or contacted their customer service team to get help, did you:

  • immediately feel heard and understood by a representative that knew how to solve your problem, or did you have to speak to numerous agents to get your point across?
  • get a solution that met your needs and expectations, or were you given a pat answer that didn’t really help?
  • feel taken care of by the company in question, or did you hang up feeling more frustrated than when you began?

We’ve all had experiences where we felt frustrated or let down as a customer—and understanding how to avoid those experiences as a brand is key to handling customer complaints effectively.

So how do you avoid those negative experiences and leave even unhappy customers with a positive experience? Our team of CX experts will dive into our best tips and strategies for doing so in this article.

Why Do Customers Complain?

First, before you can effectively handle your customer’s complaints, it helps to have an understanding of what types of complaints you’re dealing with.

Customers complain for all kinds of reasons:

  • bad customer experiences or service
  • product or feature issues
  • service / platform downtime
  • hidden fees or conditions
  • unclear or “unfair” pricing
  • and so on

Within each of these categories are a myriad of reasons for complaint. For example, take “bad customer service”—there’s a multitude of reasons why customers might have a negative customer experience. Some of the most common?

  • Long hold or wait times when speaking with a customer service agent (60%)
  • Difficulty reaching a human agent (42%)
  • Having to repeat information multiple times (42%)
  • Unfriendly customer support (38%)

When you can figure out and understand what types of complaints you’re getting the most of—and what the nature of these complaints are—you can develop standard operating procedures and responses for these complaints to take care of them effectively. And, ideally, you can also find and solve the root of these common problems so they don’t continue to create unpleasant experiences for your customers.

So, once you know what your complaints are, how do you develop standard and effective procedures and responses for handling them? Here are 15 tried-and-true tips from our team of CX experts.

Active Listening and Empathy

One of the best ways to understand your customer’s needs —and handle their complaints effectively—is through active listening skills and empathy.

Create a supportive environment for customers. Don’t dismiss your customer’s concerns, even if they feel irrelevant or obvious. Instead, listen empathetically to customer concerns and always do your best to create a supportive environment for customers to share what’s not working. When customers feel they can share open feedback, you get an opportunity to make your product better for customers and gain customer loyalty.

Practice active listening. Active listening skills include mirroring the customer, demonstrating understanding through rephrasing the customer’s concerns, asking clarifying questions and using empathetic language. Make sure you gather enough information to fully understand the nature of the complaint—especially if there are many elements the customer is frustrated with, or layers under the surface of their complaint. Try to understand the customer’s perspective and reflect it back to them so they know you understand and care about their specific needs and concerns.

Show empathy and genuine understanding. At the heart of every interaction, whether positive or negative, seek to have your agents show empathy for every customer. Ultimately, if customers feel heard and understood, they will have a better experience with your company, regardless of the outcome for them. Train agents in empathetic language and key customer service phrases to use and avoid.

Prompt Response and Resolution

Once you become aware of a complaint—whether it comes to your team directly through a customer service line, or indirectly, as on social media or an online review site—have a system in place to respond and resolve the complaint promptly.

Be proactive. Don’t wait for complaints to make their way to your company. In many cases, by the time a customer contacts you outright, they’ve already been having trouble for some time, and have likely tried to find answers or solutions elsewhere. In fact, 81% of customers attempt to solve problems on their own before they ever contact customer service. So be proactive in looking for and responding to customer feedback and complaints—know where your customers are spending time online and be active on review sites, social media and other places where customers are likely to complain.

Respond to complaints in a timely manner. Of course, you shouldn’t resolve complaints half-heartedly just to close tickets more quickly, but you should seek to fully resolve complaints as quickly as you can. The longer a given situation goes on, the less satisfied a customer is likely to be at the end of it, even if the solution is the same in the end. For example, a prompt refund is likely to make a customer more satisfied—and more likely to return to your company—than one that takes months to process.

Take ownership and offer appropriate solutions. Don’t blame the customer for the problem—ever—even if it’s the customer’s fault. Phrases like “Well, you should have…” or “This wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t…” only serve to frustrate the customer further and escalate the situation. Instead, take some ownership over the issue, as appropriate, and apologize for the frustration and confusion the customer is facing. Then, be flexible with solutions and try to offer multiple solutions that could suit the customer’s needs.

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Effective Communication and Transparency

Even the “perfect” procedures can fall flat if your agents aren’t communicating with customers effectively. How can you improve agent communication and policy transparency?

Use clear and concise language. Misunderstandings are common in customer service, and it’s not always due to language barriers. In many cases, misunderstandings are the result of ineffective communication. Train agents to always use clear and concise language, and to rephrase customer questions and concerns to ensure understanding. In addition, have agents use positive language and framing, even for negative situations. Framing something positively can help customers have a better experience, even if the outcome is the same.

Keep the customer informed. Many problems are not an easy fix that happens on a single phone call. For multi-step resolution processes, keep the customer in the loop and informed of your progress and the next steps for resolution. Even if it is an easy fix, keep customers informed. If you need to place the customer on hold, estimate how long it’ll take and why you’re doing it. If you need to look something up or check with a supervisor, inform the customer before you do so, and always give an update if something changes.

Be transparent about policies and limitations. In short, don’t make promises you can’t keep. If a customer is frustrated about not being able to make a return, but you can’t make an exception, don’t offer them one or say you “might be able to” do something if you know you can’t. Be upfront and transparent about the policies while also offering as much flexibility as you can to help the customer with their concern. If you’re not sure what you can do, it’s ok to tell the customer that you need to look into something for them before giving them a final answer—most customers will appreciate that you are taking the time to get them the right information.

Going the Extra Mile

The best customer service doesn’t always fit in a box—sometimes you really need to go out of your way to make a positive experience for a customer. Here’s a few ways to do so:

Offer compensation or special considerations when appropriate. If a customer has had a major issue or disruption due to a product or service failure, you may consider offering special compensations or considerations that are outside of your normal policy—i.e. giving a free month of subscription due to excessive downtime, or allowing a loyal customer to make a return outside of the typical exchange period.

Provide follow-up communication as needed. Having a manager or other higher-up follow up with customers after a complicated situation to ensure the issue is fully resolved can go a long way to developing customer satisfaction. Not only does it ensure problems are fully resolved, it helps reassure customers that you really care about them and aren’t just checking them off a list.

Continuous Improvement

Finally, make good use of your customer feedback—and use it to improve your services, products and overall customer experience.

Identify process or product weaknesses. Make the most of your customer feedback by using it to identify weaknesses with your products or processes. The easiest way to do this is to implement a system to collect, filter, analyze and implement takeaways from complaints and reviews. An outsourcing team can help with this data collection and analysis, or can help you implement automated processes. Don’t forget to include indirect feedback such as social media listening and online reviews!

Implement changes to prevent common issues. One major benefit of continuously reviewing customer feedback is that you’ll be able to notice common trends or complaints from customers. Once you do, find ways to handle these customer complaints before they become a problem for more customers. For example, if many customers are complaining about sizing, perhaps you need to make more interactive or accurate size charts on your website. If many customers complain about the return process, analyze the key touchpoints to see where you can make it easier. Predictive analytics and data analysis will help with this—and are yet another area an outsourcing team can help implement and manage.

Use knowledge bases for agents. A knowledge base solution helps ensure all agents have access to the same solutions and, well, knowledge—thus ensuring both a more consistent and higher-quality experience for customers. Knowledge bases also help agents share knowledge and creative solutions with each other, enabling your team more agency and ability to create solutions that will satisfy your customers.

Train and empower employees to handle complaints effectively. Finally, remember that training for agents on handling customer complaints isn’t—or shouldn’t be—a one-time initiative. Provide continuous training for agents to keep their skills sharp, and allow your best agents to provide training and scripts for newer agents. In addition, consider providing more freedom, when reasonable, for employees to handle complaints in whatever ways they see fit. This often creates more agency for agents and more opportunity for above-and-beyond customer service that creates customers for life.

Need Help Handling Customer Complaints?

Even with the best process, handling customer complaints isn’t always easy. If you’re:

  • struggling to keep up with the volume of customer complaints or communication
  • having difficulty resolving customer complaints effectively
  • needing additional support to analyze and learn from customer feedback
  • wanting to be more proactive about resolving customer problems

you might want to consider outsourcing some—or all—of your customer communications to a team of experts, like our team here at ROI CX Solutions.

Our team of CX and customer service experts has decades of experience in handling customer communications, complaints, questions and concerns. We’ve successfully helped teams like yours handle communication backlogs, increase bilingual service, improve customer satisfaction, and more. We can help your team implement, manage, analyze and respond to customer feedback, complaints, satisfaction surveys and more to grow your revenue and increase customer loyalty.

Ready to see how an outsourcing team can support your customer service and customer loyalty goals? Connect with an expert from ROI CX Solutions today to see how we can help.


Actively listen to the customer, empathize with their situation, respond promptly, communicate effectively, and offer a transparent and appropriate resolution.
Effective communication is key. It involves clear, transparent interaction that keeps the customer informed and engaged throughout the resolution process.
Utilizing feedback for continuous improvement helps in identifying and rectifying systemic issues, thus reducing future complaints.

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