Dealing with Customer Complaints

Effective listening and questioning skills are essential for ‘reading / sizing up a situation’.  The ability to solve problems, resolve differences and capture opportunities involve these listening skills coupled with another skill, the ability to analyze.  This requires asking the right questions to clarify problems, needs, wants and opportunities – i.e. What the customer has, as compared to what he/she would rather have. 

Not only that, you are challenged to elicit as much information as possible by means of a short question in limited time.  The use of open-ended questions will encourage the customer to expand his/her answers to provide more pertinent information.  Open-ended questions begin with the words, who, when, where, what, why and how.  Close-ended questions help to confirm what has already been said or to obtain agreement.  Close-ended questions start with words such as would, could, should, do, did, are, can, has and have. They have a basic ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answer.

Skilled questioning will elicit information in a conversational way.  It is particularly useful when you have to deal with a complaint.  There are two factors to consider when dealing with customers’ complaints:

  • Facts – the problem: What went wrong with the product or service?
  • Feeling – the person: What were the customer’s feelings about what went wrong with the product or service?

When negotiating a settlement, separate these two factors….. and listen.  To form ‘tailored solutions’ to customers’ problems, the following questioning sequence can be used.

  • Need:  Does a need, problem or opportunity exist?
  • Importance:   How serious is it?  Is it a priority?
  • Quantify:  What is the size and scope of the need?
  • Consequences:  What is its impact and effect?  What if it is not solved?
  • Listen:  Is the customer open to ideas?  Suggestions?  Options?  If a solution is difficult to reach, ask the golden question:  “What is it that you think we should do to solve the problem and be fair on both of us? 

This sequence helps to focus the customer’s perception on the facts, increases the agent’s awareness of the customer’s needs, generates the data on which customized and personalized solutions can be formed and leads to well-known and committed decisions. 


To know how to satisfy and delight customers, you have to know what causes their dissatisfaction.  The most general complaints are:

  • Being placed in a queue with a computerized voice saying:  ‘There is no agent to deal with your call right now.  You are number 125 in the queue!’  This is to grossly overlook the purpose of a call centre – to improve accessibility!
  • Being placed on hold without an agent getting back to inform the customer what is happening and why.
  • Being transferred without receiving satisfaction.
  • Not knowing the identity of the person taking the call.
  • A rude, unconcerned attitude towards the caller.
  • An agent who is not able to provide the information or service that is needed.
  • No solution given to a complaint or getting someone else who will try to solve it.
  • Heavy classical or loud music and advertisements playing while the customer waits.


Excellent customer service never happens overnight.  It is the result of paying attention to details every day, every month, every year.  For your customer service to continually improve and flourish in the long term, you have to find out not only what annoys customers, but also what delights them.

Golden moments, or moments of magic, are created if you:

  • Always follow up your promises.
  • Under-promise and over-deliver!
  • Are willing to go the extra mile.
  • Offer your customer enough options.
  • Express empathy and understanding.
  • Treat your customer to the best of your ability.
  • Treat your internal and inner customers equally well.
  • Always give your name when answering the telephone.

If we can define it – we can measure it
If we can measure it – we can analyze it
If we can analyze it – we can control it
If we can control it – we can improve it

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