Complaints are a necessary part of doing business, and you can expect even MORE complaints in today’s market. Customers are becoming increasingly choosy about how they spend their limited available cash. When they make a decision to purchase a product or service, they expect excellent customer service to accompany that purchase.

Some people who complain will be difficult to please, but if your company can develop a consistent procedure employees can use for resolving complaints, you are one important step closer to assuring that you deal with the emotional and practical aspects of customer service. These seven steps should form the core of your customer complaint resolution process.

  1. Greet. Always answer the phone or greet people in person as though you are happy to hear from them. Begin in a friendly way. This first step can be more difficult than it sounds. You need to be able to separate previous negative customer service and daily life experiences from your present customer contact.
  1. Listen. In customer service, you often hear the same kinds of complaints, so it can be challenging to give each customer’s complaint your full attention. If you can truly listen, however, and give each customer an opportunity to vent some frustration, your customer will appreciate the special attention. Be empathetic. Listen for facts and feelings. Show signs of active listening.
  1. Questions. Ask questions to clarify your customer’s concerns. Again, you need to resist responding until you understand your customer and their issues — even if you’re familiar with that type of concern. Use these three types of questions to gain a comprehensive understanding of your customer’s issue.
  • Elementary questions capture the basic facts of the problem. These questions give you an opportunity to take some of the emotion out of the customer’s experience and complaint.
  • Elaborative questions gather more details. These questions give the customer a chance to expand on their issues and feelings. These questions should be relatively short but inquisitive to encourage the customer to talk more about their concerns.
  • Evaluative questions help you determine how severely this issue effects the customer. This is also where you evaluate what you can do to satisfy the customer.
  1. Empathize. Find a point of agreement with the customer. This does not necessarily mean that you agree with the complaint, but only that you are able to find a common ground. This is where you show the customer that you heard and understood their concern and that you recognize that this issue is important to them.
  1. Address the Issue. Now that you have addressed and helped diffuse some of the complaint’s emotional issues, do everything in your power to resolve the practical aspects. Take responsibility for your organization’s role in the customer’s dissatisfaction. This is your opportunity to turn a lemon into lemonade. People who have their problems successfully resolved tend to choose to do business with those companies again.
  1. Test Questions. Ask questions to test how well you have resolved the emotional and practical sides of the complaint. If the customer is satisfied with the resolution, this will make it easier to end the experience on a positive note.
  1. Follow Through. Often, complaints cannot be resolved completely on the first point of contact. If you need to get back to the customer, do so quickly and be thorough in your response. Even if the complaint has been resolved, create a reason to contact the customer again. For example, find a way to offer added value to the customer’s experience with the company. Also, look for ways to solve the root cause of problems within your organization. If you can solve some root causes of common complaints, you will experience fewer complaints.