Communicating difficult news

Handling Complaints Quickly: Phrases to Help

Avoid having small issues escalate into big ones

Handling complaints quickly can help your company avoid having small issues escalate into big ones. This summer I had the pleasure of taking my five year old to a well-known fun park on a beautiful, but scorching hot August day. For those of you who haven’t been lucky enough to share this experience and the hours of standing in line it includes, let me tell you this, tempers can fray quickly.

On the bright side, standing in line means that you have lots of time for people watching. I particularly enjoyed one incident where the officials staffing the line decided that it was getting too long. Their solution: change the direction. What happened was that the line simply reversed its order, so that those who had just arrived went to the front and those who had been waiting for over an hour got to go to the back. I felt really sorry for the young French official being eaten alive by the customers – she looked pretty scared. The decision to change the line hadn’t been her decision, but what could she have said instead of just “sorry, sorry, sorry.”? A basic structure for handling complaints along with some suitable language certainly could have come in handy.
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3 Common stages of handling complaints

1.  Listening and empathizing

You might not agree, it might not be your fault personally, but the customer is angry and needs a chance to vent their anger. Don’t keep butting in, let them have a bit of a rant, make some sympathetic noises and try some of these phrases:

  • I see your point / I understand.
  • I can appreciate that.
  • Thank you for pointing that out.
2.  Apologizing and accepting responsibility

Angry customers need to be calmed down – a simple “sorry” goes a long way. And “It’s not my fault” or “there must be a misunderstanding” is never going to improve the situation – avoid both of those phrases at all costs.

  • I’m sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused.
  • I’m / we’re terribly sorry about that.
  • Please accept my/ our apologies.
3.  Promising and taking action

You’ve said sorry, now the customer wants to hear what you’re going to do about it. Here are some phrases that might have worked well in the above situation.

  • I’ll let my manager know how you feel, and let’s see if we can find a solution.
  • I’m going to see how we can make this better for you.
  • Here are some vouchers for lunch for any trouble we may have caused you.

3 Possible outcomes of not handling complaints well

1.  Loss of sales

Your competitors may benefit. The customer may decide to take their business elsewhere. This means a loss of sales.

2.  Damaged reputation

The customer will badmouth you to others. Social media means that this is so much easier to do than it used to be. Thousands of people could hear, and you have no way of defending yourself – you just look bad.

3.  Unhappy staff

It isn’t fun having people shouting at you. If there is a clear structure in place, however simple it may be, it will give staff confidence in unpleasant situations. Handling complaints in another language is that much harder, so having some key language up their sleeves will also contribute significantly to how they feel about dealing with the situation.

Why not share your ideas on other language that would be useful or other simple steps that you feel could be taken when handling complaints?


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