Meet the challenge of email complaints

Meet the challenge of email complaints 

by Betty Hintch, editor, First-Rate Customer Service Forum

Handling customer complaints by email is just as challenging as doing so in person. Follow these guidelines to ensure that you meet customer concerns:

  • Address the customer. Begin the email message with the customer’s name. If this is your first interaction with the customer, use a formal salutation and the person’s last name. Example: “Dear Mr. Smith.” Using first names right off the bat may appear too casual to customers and could communicate that their problems aren’t important. Transition to a first-name basis after you establish rapport.
     
  • Apologize. In the first sentence, express your regrets for the error. Even if you believe the customer is at fault, recognize the trouble the person has gone through. Example: “I am sorry for the inconvenience you experienced. I can understand how you would be frustrated with the amount of time you have spent on this.” Remember: Maintain the same professional tone you use in vocal communication. The anonymity of email communications may tempt you to make an unnecessary comment you will regret later.
     
  • Restate the problem. Confirm the reason for the customer’s dissatisfaction. You want to be sure you are solving the correct problem. Example: “Our maintenance rep did not arrive for the scheduled service call, and you haven’t been able to contact anyone to correct the problem. Is that correct?”
     
  • Explain the steps you will take to solve the problem. Give customers confidence that you know how to fix the issue, without boring them with too many details. Offer a date and general time frame when the problem will be resolved. Example: “I will contact our service department and ask them for the first available day and time when a maintenance rep can be at your home. Next, I’ll confirm the appointment with you. I will have an update for you no later than tomorrow morning.” Remember, don’t require customers to follow up. The extra work will add to their frustration.
     
  • Close by expressing your appreciation for the customer’s business. Mention your regret for the error one more time.  Example: “We appreciate your patience and your business and sincerely apologize for the poor service you received. Regards, Mary Johnson.”

Hone your ability to turn to angry customers into fans. “Winning Over Even the Most Difficult Customers: Going Beyond ‘Service With a Smile'” shares tips to make the most of conversations with customers, regardless of how difficult they may be.  

Last month’s poll

Fluctuating economic reports don’t seem to have a significant impact on your customers. In our last survey, we asked Forum readers whether they thought the recent dips in the stock market would result in lost orders and customers. Most respondents expected a slight or moderate decline in business, but no respondents said they were worried about a mass customer exodus.

As the U.S. experienced mixed economic reports, you want to use every tool in your arsenal to retain customers and sell more products and services. “Want Fries with That? What Customer Service Up-selling and Cross Selling Really Bring to Your Bottom Line” reveals the customer service rep’s role in raising revenues.

Special thanks to those who provided feedback to last month’s survey. Click here to respond to this month’s survey about expected challenges during the upcoming holiday season.

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Each issue of the First-Rate Customer Service Forum offers you tips for improving your customer service skills. Plus, you have the opportunity to request advice on your most vexing customer service problems—and receive feedback from your peers and our panel of editors!

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