Customer complains to customer support

31 Ways to Respond to Customer Complaints

Best Responses to Customer Complaints 

Customer complaints may not be pleasant to deal with, but they’re actually good for your business. Without them, you might never learn about problems with your product, processes, or marketing.

Not knowing is dangerous: You can only solve the problems that you know about. The ones you ignore continue to exist, causing you to lose customers and revenue in the long run. Studies show that, for every five customers with problems, one will switch brands the next time they buy.1

Given that complaints are actually helpful, it’s amazing that companies aren’t better at dealing with them. Here at TextExpander, we’ve been honing our ability to receive and learn from negative feedback for years.

In this post, we’ll share our step-by-step approach to handling customer complaints and the tools we use to make the process easier. We’ll cover:

How to handle customer complaints

Say thanks

How you begin a customer support interaction matters2. When handling a complaint, start by thanking the customer for sharing their feedback.

You should be grateful: most unhappy customers don’t complain1, leaving you in the dark about broken features or processes.

The ones who do complain are the ones who genuinely care about your business (or product/service). By complaining, they’re not only giving you a chance to keep them as a customer but also to do better as a business.

Here are some phrases you could use to say thanks:

  • “Thanks for reaching out about this!”
  • “Thank you for letting me know.”
  • “Thank you for taking the time to share that with us.”
  • “Thank you for bringing this to our attention.”

Apologize

Once you’ve thanked them for reaching out, apologize to them for the trouble.

Companies are notoriously bad at apologizing3: Most avoid saying sorry at all costs, preferring instead to highlight their good intentions or use euphemisms like “missed the mark”.

Don’t be like them: as Sean O’Meara, co-author of a book on corporate apologies told an interviewer3, “If you fail, you don’t get to speak to your own virtues.”

Apologizing is just as easy as saying “sorry”. Here are a few phrases to help you with that:

  • “I’m sorry you’re having trouble.”
  • “I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with this.”
  • “I’m so sorry about the issue with x.”

Empathize

Apologizing is essential, but it’s not enough. You have to show the customer you understand where they’re coming from. Here are phrases to acknowledge and empathize with their pain:

  • “I understand how that’s frustrating.”
  • “I’ve had something like this happen before — I know how frustrating it can feel.”
  • “I understand how inconvenient this is for you.”
  • “I understand that this issue has caused _______ (consequence), and that’s not acceptable.”
  • “I get how this could be confusing.”
  • “That’s not okay.”

Dive deeper

Now ask questions to get to the root of their problem. Try using these phrases:

  • “Can you explain what you mean by…?”
  • “Could you give me an example?”
  • “Can you expand on that?”
  • “Let me know if I’m off the mark here.”
  • “It seems like XYZ thing happened.”

If you understand the problem but not the customer’s desired outcome, try asking:

  • “What would your best-case scenario look like?”

Offer a solution

Ask them if it’s okay to offer a solution first.

“Asking for permission in a heated exchange gives the customer a moment to willingly cooperate and come to the best solution. It puts you on their side and positions you both against the problem rather than customer vs service rep,” writes A.J. Beltis, content marketing manager at HubSpot.

Here are two phrases to use:

  • “Can I share a few options I’ve come up with to make things right?”4
  • “I think it may help to _______ (possible solution). If you’re willing, here’s how to do that:”

If you need more time, let the customer know — and tell them when they can expect to hear from you again using the phrases below:

  • “I’ll work with our team here to resolve this. I’ll email you as soon as it’s fixed.”
  • “I’ll get back to you in _______ (hours/weeks/days).”
  • “Let me talk to my manager and see what we can do to fix this ASAP. I should have an answer for you by [time/date].”

Follow up

If possible, check that the problem is fixed. If you can’t do that, ask the customer to let you know if they still need help. Here are a couple of phrases for following up:

  • “I’ve tested this and it appears to be working as expected. But please let me know if you’re still running into issues.”
  • “Please let me know if there’s anything else I can do to help.”

Show appreciation

Now, let them know you value their business and their feedback:

  1. Find a way to make up for their trouble. Waive the fees for using your service for the next month or two. Give them a free upgrade. Send them a gift in the mail.
  2. Let them know you’ve taken measures to prevent the issue from happening again.

Here are phrases to show your appreciation:

  • “We’d love to make this up to you.”
  • “We want you to have confidence in us.”
  • “I hope this in some part makes up for whatever loss your business incurred.”
  • “Our team is making it their new priority to ensure this problem does not happen again.”
  • “We are going to make some major changes to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

Useful tools for handling complaints

Here are the tools we use to respond to customer complaints.

HelpScout

We use HelpScout folders to organize conversations based on topic and urgency — this helps us prioritize customers who need immediate help. We also use the HelpScout-Jira integration to track customer complaints and follow up when the issue has been resolved.

HelpScout’s features include:

  • Mailbox
  • Knowledge Base
  • Live Chat
  • Workflows
  • Reporting
  • Integrations

HelpScout starts at $20 per user per month.

TextExpander

We use TextExpander to create Saved Replies to customer complaints (and access them with just a couple of keystrokes).

TextExpander enables us to:

  • Save proven messaging (including good responses to customer complaints)
  • Give teams easy access to company knowledge they need every day
  • Save time by typing less

TextExpander starts at $10.83 per user/month for teams of 10-50 users.

FAQs

We hope the tips above were helpful! For a recap, read these frequently asked questions on how to respond to a customer complaint:

How do you acknowledge a client complaint?

To acknowledge a client complaint, follow these steps:

  1. Say thanks
  2. Apologize
  3. Empathize
  4. Dive deeper
  5. Offer a solution
  6. Follow up
  7. Show appreciation

How do you politely respond to a customer?

To politely respond to a customer, start with a thank you. If the customer is contacting you because they’re having trouble, tell them you’re sorry.

What are the appropriate words for responding to a complaint?

Here are phrases for responding to a complaint:

  • “Thanks for reaching out about this!”
  • “I’m sorry you are having trouble.”
  • “I understand how that could be frustrating.”
  • “It seems like XYZ thing happened.”
  • “Can I share a few options I’ve come up with to make things right?”
  • “I’ll work with our team here to resolve this.”
  • “Please let me know if there’s anything else I can do to help.”
  • “We are going to make some major changes to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”
  • “We’d love to make this up to you.”

References and further reading

1. Strategic Customer Service: Managing the Customer Experience to Increase Positive Word of Mouth, Build Loyalty, and Maximize Profits. (Kindle E-Book). John A. Goodman (2009).

2. 31 Phrases to Show Empathy in Customer Service – Top Example Scripts. (Blog post). Sarah Chambers (2022). TextExpander.

3. Why Are Brands So Bad At Apologizing? (News article). Terry Nguyen (2019). Vox.

4. How to Respond to Customer Complaints (Blog post). AJ Beltis (2021). HubSpot.

5. Step-By-Step Guide: How to Handle Customer Complaints (Blog post). Ciotti, Gregory (2022). HelpScout.

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