The Double A’s of Customer Complaints: Acknowledge and Apologize

Understanding, sympathy, empathy and compassion – these are all valuable and necessary traits for a customer service rep; however, these emotions can easily get lost while interacting with a particularly rowdy customer. Even more, today’s call center interaction is much different than that of yesteryear, where it now involves multiple lines of communication, including social, Web and mobile. To ensure that your customers’ online experience is consistent with traditional phone, let’s first take a look at the standard phone call.

People generally call an agent when they have a question, a problem or a complaint. Oftentimes, they’re angry or upset and want to blame someone. Seeing how the agent is almost always the first company representative – or perhaps the only company representative – the customer has access to at that particular moment, it is this person who bears the brunt of customers’ negative emotions. So, how does one soothe a customer who’s only seeing red?

This can be summed up with what we like to call “The Double A’s”: Acknowledge and Apologize.

The first rule of handling customer complaints is to accept and acknowledge a person’s anger, then apologize. Of course, whatever happened is likely not the agent’s fault; however, having service reps verbalize their acknowledgement of the customer complaint and apologize for the inconvenience the customer has been caused will show that they have been heard and understood. The agent is apologizing on behalf of the company, on behalf of the situation. This simple step may be all it takes to calm a customer down and get him or her to see that the agent is an advocate.

But, as we mentioned, with multi-channeling call center software now becoming an industry standard, the customer and the agent may not even be verbally communicating during their exchange. So, what if verbal communication is not being used?

It’s easy to display compassion vocally, but in a Web-based contact center conversation such as a text, live chat session or an e-mail response, punctuation such as exclamation points, parentheses, ellipses and caps versus lower case letters can change the tone of the conversation. Provide your agents with guidelines for Web responses and have them practice Web-based conversations to assure that the emotion coming through is appropriate—not too much or too little—and consistent no matter the channel.

The customer is always right. Right? Acknowledging a customer’s anger and apologizing for his or her problem will help maintain satisfaction and loyalty for the long-term. And that is the goal of every customer interaction.

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