Handling Customer Complaints Cheat Sheet

customer service complaints

“Statistics suggest that when customers complain, business owners and managers ought to get excited about it. The complaining customer represents a huge opportunity for more business.” ~ Zig Ziglar

However, to convert complaints into opportunities you need to learn how to handle them efficiently. Keep in mind that the main task of the customer support agent is not to make things always right but to show a desire to make them right. 

At some point everyone in business faces a challenge of handling customer complaints. However, not everyone realizes how important they are and has any idea how to leave customers thinking they deal with a great company. In this blog post I would like to share a cheat sheet that will help you to handle your customer complaints more efficiently and turn them into opportunities to improve.


While listening to your customers, never interrupt them. Instead, wait and let them finish. Don’t be defensive. They have a problem and want to have it solved. They don’t attack you personally. So, defensive tone will not improve the situation or help to deal with the issue faster. Instead, show that you listen, choose caring tone and ask questions to get a more detailed description of the issue. Repeat back what you have heard to show that you have listened.

Te following phrases will help you not only to show active listening but also collect more details about the issue:

  • “Could you tell me a bit more about that?”
  • “Let me make sure I’ve got this right.”
  • “I have noticed that…”
  • “Let’s make sure I’m hearing you correctly.”
  • “That’s rough. How can I help?”
  • “What I’m hearing is … “
  • “I am not sure I understand. Could you clarify…”

The information you collect will help you to improve in future and avoid similar issues. Thus, be attentive to details and make sure you understood the everything.

Take customer complaints seriously

Sometimes it is not enough just to show your active listening. Your customers expect your serious attitude to their problems, that is why they contacted you. Stay positive and assure them that the issue is important. In addition, you can offer a ticket number and additional notification to keep them updated regarding the progress:

  • “May I arrange for an update call, at a time most convenient for you or send an email notification?”
  • “I have created a ticket number [TICKET NUMBER] for your issue. Would you like to receive email notifications once an update in this ticket is made?”

Offer apologies

When a customer senses that you are sincerely sorry, it usually diffuses the situation. There is no need to blame other people or departments, just apologize. However, if you continue repeating “I am sorry”, it will sound insincere. On the other side, if you deliver a genuine and effective customer service apology, your customers will sense that you are really sorry and will do your best to find a solution. Here are some phrases that will help you with handling complaint-oriented situations:

  • “I’m sorry you’re going through that.”
  • “It is unfortunate that things turned out this way.”
  • “I am sorry if you are offended.”
  • “Please accept our apologies for that mistake”

Put yourself into customers’ shoes

Your customer needs to feel that you are on the same side and empathize the situation. Instead of arguing and defending, show your empathy and acknowledge a customer’s problem. Start your sentences with “I” instead of “we”. This will sound more human and friendly:

  • “I completely / absolutely agree with you….”
  • “I am sorry you feel like that. Something similar has happened to me before and I felt the same way. I will quickly check the issue and do my best to offer the solution as soon as possible.”
  • “I would feel the same in your situation, but we will sort this out…”

Ensure you understand the reason of complaint

Before you start working on a solution of your customer’s problem, ensure that you understand everything, especially the reason of the complaint. Sometimes it is not enough to offer a quick solution and get a positive feedback. You need to find out why that happened, what was the real reason of the complaint. If something is wrong from your side, you need to take actions and fix this to avoid future complaints.

Offer a solution

Prepare a couple of solutions and offer them to your customer. This way you will work together to find the most positive one. Here are a couple of phrases that will help:

  • “May I suggest that…?
  • “As a solution I would like to offer….”
  • “I would suggest that….”

Take responsibility

Any number of factors could have contributed to the issue, and you might not be at fault. However, instead of blaming someone else, take the responsibility. In most cases a sincere apology is all it takes to satisfy your customer:

  • “I am really sorry this has happened….”
  • “Please accept my apology for this….”

Follow up

Not always customers are satisfied with the solution they are offered when they contact customer service line with complaints. On the contrary, they may still feel disappointed and frustrated. The next most important step in resolving a complaint is contacting customers to ensure they are satisfied with the solution offered.

Simple follow-up is not something extra, it’s a part of the workflow when you deal with complaints. Yet, this is another way to win brand advocates and to improve your company customer service. In addition, a follow-up allows you to build stronger connection with customers.

Treat your customers with respect

Everyone wants to be treated with respect. Remember that you are talking to people and this is a conversation with another human who has contacted your customer service line. Just stay consistently helpful and unquestionably genuine.

Exceed expectations

To keep a high level of customer satisfaction, you need to go beyond and above what they expect. This does not mean you should offer them an incentive, just take extra time to listen to, better understand and resolve their complaints. Here are a couple of tips that will help you to exceed your customers’ expectations:

  • Show your customers excellent customer service and your sincere intention to go the extra mile.
  • Do your best to provide an immediate resolution. All customers are looking for immediate assistance, assure them that the right person is looking into the situation. Talk to them while the issue is being investigated.
  • Actively try to identify the issue. Instead of waiting for your customer to finish the story, start checking the details while listening. Your proactive approach may save your customers’ time and help you to understand the issue better.

Over to you

It is not enough just to follow the recommendations I provided in my blog post. Approach customer complaints proactively and ensure that they will not happen in future. However, analyzing phone, chat and email interactions is not enough, you need to monitor complaints posted online and never lose an opportunity to improve whenever you receive a complaint.

4 thoughts on “Handling Customer Complaints Cheat Sheet”

  1. Nicely done. Simple and succinct but very much on point. Imagine when that complaint comes from a high value customer – like a gold/platinum member in a brand’s loyalty program? No one is talking about this. We have put a course together at the Loyalty Academy to address the very issue of Member Care in a loyalty program.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. My problem is different because the manager of my favorite store she’s cheating with my husband and I tried to talk to her she told me there’s nothing I can do because that’s her private life it has nothing to do with her job

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