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Dealing With Online Complaints: A 4-Part Framework That Wins Over Your Customers Every Time




It’s true. Having tough conversations and dealing with customer complaints online is a lot more challenging than when we do it face to face or over the telephone. But what if there was a way to make having these kinds of negative conversations seamlessly easy and straight forward? 


The absence of tone and body language means people interpret written messages more negatively, and that’s why it’s important that we choose our words carefully when dealing with customer complaints online. 

When handling a complaint online, it’s not only important that we take extra care and caution in our choice of words, but that we personalise the experience for the customer as much as possible. Let them know they’re speaking with a real human being, and not some programmed robot.

In this article, I’m going to be sharing with you a popular framework in dealing with online customer complaints that is used by some of the worlds biggest brands, such as KFC, Long John Silvers, Chick-fil-Aand Pizza Hut. Not only that, but I’m going to be showing you specific techniques for each part of the framework that you can use straight away so that you can win over your customer's trust and respect, every single time.

In this article, I’m going to be sharing with you a popular framework in dealing with online customer complaints that are used by some of tcommunication strategies you can use straight away to connect with your customers and close the communication gap. You can download it for free here:


But how we listen, how we apologise, and how we solve and show gratitude are subjective. Each person has their own unique way to do these things. What I want to help you with, is how to do all of these things in the most effective snd practical way possible. 

Step 1 - Listen:


Listen more than you talk, and make it about them, not you. When the customer is telling you about their issue, you, as the customer service rep, should remain silent. Listen for repeated words and phrases the customer mentions about their problem or issue, and never interrupt them.


During the listening phase, you want to gather as much valubale information and detail about the issue as possible, so it’s important you keep the customer speaking, but at the same time, you don’t want to interrupt them. Instead, use minimal encouragers such as I see,”, “Mhmm”, and I understand” to keep them talking.


It’s worth noting that you don’t want to overuse minimal encouragers as this comes across as though you’re just pretending to be listening. With practice, you will become increasingly comfortable with when to use minimal encouragers appropriately.


Another great active listening tip is to use is what we call, “Clean Language questions”. Clean Language is a precision enquiry technique that allows people to harvest information from another person: what they know, what they think, how they feel.


Here are 2 examples of Clean Language questions that you can use to gather more information about the customer’s problem/issue and to help understand their problem better:


  1. What kind of X (is that X)?

  2. Is there anything else about X?


In the examples above, (X), is a repeated word or phrase the customer has used, perhaps a specification of the product they’re unhappy with, or even a feeling they have towards the product or service. 


During the listening phase, never try to resolve the problem, only listen. On to the next step, which is to applogise.







Step 2 - Apologise:


Many years ago I worked as a sales rep for an insurance company. We were given a script listing different phrases we could use to apologise and express empathy towards the customer, but there was a problem: the apologies weren’t working. So I took the initiative in asking some of our customers why


They told me that the lack of face to face interaction made them think the apologies were insincere. They assumed that they were speaking to a bot which made them feel devalued and less appreciated. What they wanted was personalisation


They wanted to know that the apology was coming from a real human being.

The problem is, when we say things like, “I’m sorry you feel that way”, or “I’m sorry you’re upset”, it comes across as defensive and generic. 


The problem is when we say things like, “ personal by giving your name. By putting your name on the line, you show tremendous accountability and commitment to the resolution of your customers’ problems. Personalise it even further by including the specific issue the customer is facing in your apology.


“I’m very sorry you’re having problems with XYB. My name is Adam and I’m going to make sure I do my best to resolve this for you today.”

"Personalised apologies create a greater connection between you and the customer and come across as more sincere."


Step 3 - Solve:


What I’m going to teach you now is quite possibly my favourite communication tip of all time. I’m going to show you not only how to solve your customer’s problem, but how to instantly calm angry customers down by asking one simple question. This question has been used numerous times by myself as well as colleagues and clients of mine and has never disappointed. 


What I’m going to teach you now is quite possibly my favorite communication tip of all time. I’m going to show you not only how to solve your customer’s problem, but how to instantly calm angry customers down by asking one simple question. This question has been used numerous times by myself as well as colleagues and clients of mine and has never disappointed. 


“And when <their problem, in their words>, what would you like to have happen?"

This Clean Language question is great on so many levels, but at heart what it does, is shift the customer’s attention away from their problems, and towards their desired outcome. They’re telling you what they want.

The goal for you then becomes, “how do I get them that exact outcome or how do I get them as close as possible to that exact result”? Put forward potential solutions that are aligned with what they want to have happen.


Finally, a neat little psychology tip. When presenting the solution, frame the problem as a “you and them vs the problem”, rather than “you vs the customer”. Use sentences such as “what me and you need to do to resolve this is….” Rather than “what I/, you need to do to resolve this is…”. This simple change in vocabulary shows that you’re on the customer’s side and that you care about resolving their problem/issue.


Step 4 - Thank (and follow up):


Did you know that almost 70% of customers leave companies because they think the company doesn't care about them? So how do you actually show them that you care?

  • Thank.

  • Follow up.

  • Exceed expectations.


Thank them for taking the time to reach out to you. Again, using personalisation in your message really goes a long way. 


Follow up with the customer by either checking in with them via email or telephone, or by sending them a link to a quick online survey and tell them you would really appreciate their feedback to ensure the same problem doesn’t happen again in the future.


Exceed expectations by sending a simple thank you note, or by giving them something of value, whether that’s a discount on a new product, or a months free subscription. Be generous and thoughtful, your customers are your greatest marketing tool out there. 





Let’s wrap up


The key takeaways from this article, are:


  • Exceed expectations by sending a simple thank you note, or by giving them something of value, whether that’s a discount on a new product or a month's free subscription. Be generous and thoughtful, your customers are your greatest marketing tool.

  • Apologize and accept responsibility by including your name and mentioning the specific problem the customer is facing. This personalises the interaction. 

  • Solve the problem by first asking the customer what “they” would like to have happen. Present a solution that is at the very least in some way aligned with their needs and desires.  

  • Thank the customer for reaching out to you. Follow up by directing them to a quick survey, and always remember to exceed their expectations.


Constant communication is important throughout the entire complaint handling process, but it mustn’t stop there. Companies who go that extra mile in following up and exceeding expectations are the ones that stand out among the rest.



Something for you...


If communication is important to you, then I have a free guide where I give you 10 top communication strategies that you can use straight away to connect with your customers and close the communication gap. You can download it for free here: https://ascommunications.wixsite.com/guide