Customer Service Complaints – Real or One-Off Experiences?


Everyone from food service to B2B companies can understand that occasional customer complaints are inevitable. Many managers will jump at the chance to defend their work or their employees, but are there times when complaints are genuine? Of course, there are, and there’s much you can learn from a customer’s complain even if you suspect that it’s not legitimate.

Determine If The Complaint is Legitimate

There are always a few signs to look for when handling complaints. It’s always easier to tell the legitimacy of a complaint when you’re handling the customer in person because you can read their body language and often move the conversation forward quickly.

However, even when you’re talking to an irritated customer over the phone or through an email, you can spot signs that a complaint is or is not real.

First, any customer who starts the complaint requesting for free anything should fall under suspicion. There are customers that have serious issues that start out this way, but if someone comes up and says, “You’re going to pay for (insert service or product)” or, “You owe me…” is acting emotionally. That means that you should give their emotion-driven statements a second to process before you jump to your employee’s defense or start apologizing to the customer.

Second, there’s a lack of specificity. Customers that complain about “everything” may not have had a good customer experience, but they may have had the standard customer experience. Everyone has different expectations of service, cleanliness, and even timing. What is speedy service to one customer may be too slow to handle for someone else.

Finally, discussing resolutions. Many managers have come across the angered customers that give more than 2 cents about how to run their business. That’s not necessarily a sign that the complaint is not legitimate, but similar to not having something specific to complain about, these customers just don’t feel that you’re doing things the way that they would.

In every one of these instances, there isn’t a black and white situation that leaves a complaint as real or imagined by the customer. But, it does provide a bit of a guide on how to tackle complaints and their validity.

The Customer That Wants Something for Free

The first issue that leads people to question if a complaint was real or an isolated experience is when the customer asks for reimbursement or free anything. If a customer wants this, then it may have escalated quickly, and through emotional charge, they feel they’re owed something.

Or, there’s the other possibility that this complaint actually stems from a lack of value. How often do you have people requesting a refund? Is there a value disconnect between what you’re providing and the customer gains? When customers are frequently asking for free things, then you likely have a gap between the expectations and delivery in your customer experience.

The “Everything” was Wrong Situation

Unless you frequently receive complaints about four or more customer point issues, then it’s likely that these complaints are one-off situations. More common in retail, food service, and hospitality industries, there are complaints or reviews that begin with the moment the customer walked into the establishment and end as the customer is writing an angry review days later.

These one-off situations may have happened from poor staffing, emergency circumstances, or arguably crisis situations. But, the end result is still that one of your customers (hopefully not more than that) had a terrible experience.

Even if you don’t believe that every pain point is real, it’s possible that you can make improvements to your processes. For example, if one issue was that a customer was waiting for a hostess, desk clerk, or cashier to get off the phone, then you may need to change the policy on prioritizing people in person rather than those on the phone. Consider implementing a secondary register or desk hand or inform your staff that you’d rather have them put the person on the phone on hold.

Handling Complaints Either Way

There will always be that fine line to walk between pushover and immovable resistance to compromise. But, the important thing to remember is that even if a customer is making something up or had a genuinely one-off experience, the complaint requires your attention. Customers should always be approached with a listen-first, speak later attitude, and never jump to conclusions about whether a complaint is false or invalid.

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