A young woman has a tense conversation with a couple sitting at a table with her. The young woman is seated on the right; she has long dark hair and holds a pen in one hand. She gestures with both hands at a clipboard on the table. The couple speaking with her are a man and a woman seen in profile. The man has one hand up in a gesture of confusion.
Before you find yourself facing difficult conversations with customers, practice your responses and come up with ways to deal with complaint escalations. — Getty Images/fizkes

Although handling customer complaints isn’t the best part of business ownership, resolving and learning from them benefits your brand. When customers reach out with a problem, you have seconds to listen, understand, and emphasize. A poor experience can compound the issue, but a positive one can build a long-term relationship.

Your approach and systems may differ over time, depending on the size of your team or the volume of complaints. However, if you start with simple yet effective tactics, you can build upon this excellence as you grow. Explore five ways to improve customer satisfaction when resolving complaints.

Use a system for handling customer complaints

If your company is new or hasn’t had many complaints, you may just wing it. But dealing with each issue on a case-by-case basis is unsustainable as your business expands. It’s better to develop scalable systems for handling complaints earlier than later. Indeed, an increase in negative customer feedback can signal that your business is growing too fast and that your current approach isn’t working.

Your complaint process may involve:

  • Documenting customer complaints in a customer relationship management (CRM) program.
  • Providing customer service scripts for employees and training them on handling challenging interactions.
  • Creating a searchable customer service knowledge base to answer questions or concerns quickly and consistently.
  • Setting key performance indicators (KPIs) for complaint resolution, average handle time, and cost per resolution.
  • Using CRM or helpdesk software tools to set reminders for following up with dissatisfied customers.
  • Examining customer feedback, identifying trends or patterns, and fixing the root cause of common problems.

[Read more: Expert Advice for Productively Dealing with Angry Customers Online]

Demonstrate empathy

Start each call or message on a good note using soft skills like active listening and empathy. On a basic level, people just want to be heard. Repeating their issue to them is one way to show you’re listening. Also, simply saying a heartfelt, “I understand” can go a long way. Indeed, Zendesk found that 49% of surveyed consumers “are seeking more empathy from customer support agents.”

While empathy comes naturally to some customer service agents, others lack it or get worn down after handling complaints day in and day out. Along with ongoing training, consider using voice and text analytics when monitoring calls and messages. According to McKinsey & Company, “an inability to analyze voice conversations makes it difficult to unlock the full potential of digital investments and analytics to drive significant customer-service improvements.”

Even if you found a solution, following up is a best practice.

View customer complaints as an opportunity

Customer complaints can feel like an attack on the business you’ve nurtured and grown. But don’t take it personally or go on the offensive. Instead, feel grateful that you have the chance to make it right. After all, many consumers won’t report a problem. But when someone is dissatisfied, and you provide a solution, you can gain a lifetime customer. Indeed, Khoros discovered that 83% of surveyed customers “feel more loyal to brands that respond and resolve their complaints.”

[Read more: Is the Customer Always Right? How to Handle Common Customer Problems]

Practice responding to different situations

Being caught off-guard is rarely a good thing. Walk through different scenarios and think about what your hypothetical customers want from the experience. Anyone who takes customer support calls should know your refund and return policy inside and out. Knowing what you’re willing to do in various situations is also a good idea. And if less experienced team members handle customer complaints, ensure they know when and how to escalate the issue to a manager.

Think about how you could solve complaints, such as:

  • Long wait times during customer service calls.
  • A staff member or another customer offended them.
  • Out-of-stock or unavailable products.
  • Defective or unacceptable goods or services.
  • Items were missing or broken during shipping.
  • Your goods or services didn’t meet their expectations.
  • A concern about billing or fees.

Let them know that you’ll follow up

If you’re unable to resolve a complaint during your conversation, let them know what you’re going to do next and when you will get back to them. Even if you found a solution, following up is a best practice. This could be an email, phone call, or mailed letter. Doing so shows your commitment to their satisfaction and confirms that you’ve solved the problem.

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