How to manage customer complaints in stressful times

In a busy customer contact centre, the least enjoyable interactions for agents are those that begin with the words “I have a complaint”.

It could be a missing delivery, a faulty product, or an incorrect booking, but whatever the reason the customer wants it sorted out. How an agent responds can be the difference between a satisfactory outcome and a damaged business relationship.

Effective complaint handling is particularly important during times of uncertainty and stress. During the current COVID-19 crisis, people are looking for certainty and to have issues swiftly resolved. Those companies that can achieve this will be best placed to prosper when economic conditions improve.

The customer’s always right

A key part of complaint management is ensuring the customer feels they are being heard and their concerns acknowledged. The best contact centres are those that achieve this with every call.

Here are the key steps you can take to improve the way customer complaints are handled.

Have a complaints plan

While nobody wants complaint calls to occur, it’s inevitable that they will. With this in mind, ensure your contact centre has a plan in place for how the calls will be managed. This plan should be clearly communicated to all agents so that calls can be resolved in a standard and effective way.

Show compassion

At the end of the day, customers are humans seeking the resolution of an unsatisfactory situation. Ensure your contact centre agents acknowledge this and have an empathetic approach to handling calls. This can be achieved through ongoing training and regular feedback on how calls are being handled.

Use dedicated scripts

Agents rely on pre-defined scripts to guide their conversations with customers and ensure positive outcomes are reached. For this reason, it’s important to have a script that is designed specifically for complaint calls. This will ensure each is handled in an effective way and provide agents with support during what can be stressful interactions.

Create a complaints team

Disgruntled customers often demand that their call be escalated to a more senior agent or manager. To pre-empt this, it’s worth having a dedicated complaints team to which calls can be directed. This team can be specially trained to deal with complaints and have the authority to take necessary steps to resolve any issues that have arisen.

Have access to previous call notes

Nothing frustrates customers more than having to explain their circumstances or issue multiple times to different people. To avoid this situation, ensure contact centre agents have access to the notes made during previous calls. This will allow them to demonstrate an understanding of the customer and progress the issue more quickly.

Conduct live coaching

Should a particularly difficult call occur, agents should have the ability to flag the situation with their supervisor. They can then monitor the call and offer the agent real-time advice on how it should be managed. If the situation requires it, the supervisor could also join in the call and speak directly with the customer.

Remember ongoing training

The skills required to be an effective contact centre agent need to be continually honed. Conduct regular training sessions for all staff and incorporate role-playing sessions on dealing with complaint calls.

By having a clear plan in place that deals with the management of complaint calls, contact centre operators can be confident their facility is prepared for when they are received. Having processes in place will not only help agents but will also serve to resolve complaints quickly and effectively. In many cases, disgruntled callers can become loyal, long-term customers.

Daniel Harding, Director of Australian Operations, MaxContact