Complaint management: make dissatisfied customers happy

Complaints: The drivers of customer satisfaction and loyalty

Complaints are a stroke of luck for companies. They help them reveal errors in processes, improve products, simplify what is complicated and make what is displeasing to customers more pleasant. And at the same time, a complaint is also an opportunity: among complaining customers, expectations are usually low – which makes it even easier to make them happy again. Customers want to be taken seriously and hope for a resolution of their complaints. This is where the true service champions are revealed. A properly solved complaint leads to customer satisfaction and significantly higher repeat business rates.

Do not complain about complaints!

Customers who offer criticism are your better customers, and their unfavorable feedback might even increase their loyalty. Customers who do not attract attention are not always the more loyal customers – they often simply do not express their frustration. When customers complain, you are truly lucky because you have the opportunity to keep them as customers.

Why complaints are an opportunity

Complaints? Bring them on! Why? Because customers who complain and whose complaints you handled satisfactorily, are more loyal and purchase more than satisfied customers who never complain. At the same time, you get complementary process consulting. The experiences Basler Versicherung in Switzerland had with complaints confirm this hypothesis: Customers who complain hold more policies and contribute to higher profitability, more additional purchases, and fewer cancellations. Well, if that is not reason enough to delight in complaints!

Ninety-five percent of customers whose complaints are resolved to their satisfaction … compare that to customers who do not complain. This means that it is better to resolve a complaint properly than to not even hear about it. (Source: Zita Langenstein/ABB 2011)

Complaints have the highest priority

Do not procrastinate when it comes to complaints, because both response and processing time are critical in complaint management: “Complaints must be tackled quickly. The longer you wait to take care of the customer, the greater his/her desire to leave your company,” explains Sacha Truffer, Customer Satisfaction Manager at Basler Versicherung. Especially in the age of social media, customers have higher expectations about response times. However, it is not enough to be fast. What else does it take? If we attend to customers’ needs, are fair, and show that we value them, we demonstrate that customers are important to us, that we take them seriously and that we will resolve their concerns. Having this experience could increase a customer’s loyalty despite the initial discontent. A complaint resolved to a customer’s satisfaction results in a level of repeat purchases up to twice as high as that of a customer who does not complain.

“Complaints must be tackled quickly. The longer you wait to take care of the customer, the greater his/her desire to leave your company.”

Sacha TrufferCustomer Satisfaction Manager at Basler Versicherung

Why central complaint management works better

A company’s well-rooted and systematic centralized complaint processing system can provide important information on strengths and opportunities for improvement in the areas of products, processes, and services. It makes a customer’s feedback tangible, analyzable, and useful. It can even provide comprehensive evaluations beyond response and processing time and behavior structures that help to optimize service structures continuously. As a result, products and services, as well as the quality of the customer relationship, can improve.

What a software solution for complaint management can accomplish

Good contact center software supports complaint management processes and makes them so intuitive that employees can focus on the customer rather than on the system. This also includes the easy involvement of other teams in the complaint handling process and the integration of necessary third-party systems. The advantage: Your employees do not have to switch back and forth constantly between different systems, and your first contact resolution rate (FCR), the main driver of customer satisfaction, improves.

All incoming touchpoints, such as letters, emails, calls, chats, text messages, videos, WhatsApp messages, etc., should also be integrated and be part of your contact center solution. Then, users can initiate the same process every time and handle it uniformly. This helps ensure that from the customer’s point of view, complaints are resolved quickly and smoothly, which in turn improves customer satisfaction.

Why the time is not ripe any time soon for the processing of complaints
with artificial intelligence

Customers who complain have negative feelings, sometimes even very strong negative feelings, toward the company. To turn these emotions into positive feelings, it takes, above all, one key element: genuine empathy. Here, it is important to demonstrate to our customers that we are responding to them, take them seriously, and are happy to help, as it is our genuine desire to make them happy again. Not only does this approach resolve the complaint, but it also wins back the customer and increases the likelihood of repeat purchases.

Machine learning, on the other hand, is useful for other tasks.

More about machine learning (german)

Why customers leave companies

This interesting study concludes that customers most definitely do not leave because of a lack of product quality, prices that are too high or new shopping habits. Instead, the most common reason why customers leave a company is a lack of attention. Zita Langenstein, a professional household manager, provides this advice: “If you are lucky enough to get a complaint, give the customer your full attention. Listen carefully. Some employees want to offer an instant solution. However, if your customers are mad at the time, they are not looking for a solution. They want to vent.”

Customers typically do not change providers because the product is bad or the price is too high. They leave because no one pays attention to them. (Source:

Not all complaints are created equal

By calling complaints by a different name, you can very easily remove the negative connotation – because many complaints are actually not complaints, but pieces of information: The customer means well and provides feedback about an inadequate product, an unprofessional service employee, or a confusing process. Be thankful for the complementary business consulting! Some complaints are the result of an unforeseen event, a justified reclaim, an objection, or purely a matter of taste. Sometimes, complaints could also be feeble cries for love and attention.

10 insights on dealing with customers who complain

For most people, complaints spell unpleasantness or, even worse, sheer stress. This is not the case for Zita Langenstein, qualified household manager, whose places of work include hotels, restaurants, private homes, and, sometimes, even the British royal household. Professionally resolving complaints is her business. Following is what we learned from Zita as part of the Service Champion Pop-up Event series:

  1. Every complaint is justified and unique
  2. It is completely irrelevant who caused the situation
  3. Instead, it is much more important for the employee to take responsibility and for the customer to be happy
  4. There are no objective complaints
  5. Complaints snowball when employees do not know how to handle them
  6. Proper handling of customer feedback will prevent future complaints
  7. Black sheep must be filtered out – and an integrated CRM solution can help with this
  8. When you get complaints, you can retain existing customers and attract new ones
  9. Complaints do not interfere with the work process – they are a part of it
  10. Thanks to complaints, we improve

Gaining credibility with a positive error culture

”You avoid mistakes by gaining experience. You gain experience by making mistakes.”

Lawrence J. Peter

Having a positive error culture is typically an advantage for companies. Henry Ford recognized that long ago: “Our failures are often more successful than our successes.” By living an error culture, you can even win customers’ hearts – in line with the saying that honesty and transparency come before marketing phrases full of superlatives. The magic word in this context is credibility. Digitec Galaxus, the largest online retailer in Switzerland, even uses criticism in its advertisements in the form of unadorned customer reviews. “Today, customer reviews are the most important criterion for purchasing decisions,” explains Martin Walthert, Chief Marketing Officer at Digitec Galaxus. And there are many of these uncensored customer feedback messages on the online platform. Mr. Walthert considers the lively community to be the electronics retailer’s big strength. “We don’t differentiate ourselves with products or prices, but with our lively and interactive community,” says this marketing professional. Customers use the platform for peer-to-peer advice, information, and inspiration. Customers would rather believe another customer than a salesperson. Additionally, the community spirit puts money in the bank with effectiveness and credibility: All customers benefit from the reviews and feedback messages on the company’s more than 2.2 million products. And in exceptional cases, when there isn’t a customer who can provide an answer, the Digitec customer service group jumps in – equally skilled, honest, and authentic.

Current customers: Customers of the highest quality

As part of a marketing trends survey, participants in DMEXCO 2018 were asked about their focus topics. The result: The respondents, all in the field of marketing, put their entire focus on customer experience management, content marketing, and customer journey management. Unfortunately, the topics of customer loyalty and complaint management were far behind – even though companies could benefit from the opportunity to handle complaints well and invest in customer loyalty. That is because delighted customers become a company’s faithful marketing messengers and promoters, as Claude Schuler has revealed in his loyalty study.

Suggestions? Wishes? Complaints?

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Why some complaints are for the boss to handle

“I would like to speak with your manager.”
“I am sorry, but he is not here.”
“But I saw him through the window!”
“He saw you as well.”

Dear manager, please do not avoid customers who complain. Your skills are in particularly high demand when the cause of the complaint cannot be corrected immediately. Some complaint situations require your attention, and sometimes an additional service might even be needed. However, your customer care team member cannot necessarily decide this alone.

In the checklist below, we have summarized how you can score points after all when dealing with very difficult customers.

Checklist: Dealing with difficult customers

  1. Pay attention and listen carefully. Does the customer want to vent? Set time aside for the customer.
  2. Take responsibility. Show that you understand the customer and provide security.
  3. Find a solution. Wait until the customer is done expressing his/her dismay and has calmed down to start finding a joint solution.
  4. Apologize. Even if you are not directly responsible for the bad situation.
  5. Avoid killer phrases. Statements like “I am not responsible for this,” “I cannot help you with that,” or “No one has complained about this so far” drive even the most well-disposed customer up the wall.
  6. Thank the customer for the feedback, the information, and his/her time. If the customer had not complained, he/she would have switched providers with an 85% probability.
  7. Act now. Mistakes happen, but ideally, every mistake happens only once.
  8. Analyze the situation. What led to the complaint situation? What can be done better in the future? A central complaint management system with a straightforward reporting feature can contribute to your success.