How to improve customer complaints handling

19 great tips to improve complaints handling in 2019

19 Tips to improve customer complaints handling

In an increasingly competitive marketplace, businesses need to improve customer complaints handling to help win and retain customers.

Whilst traditionally it was easy to leave it up to your customer service team, retail staff or call centre team to improve customer complaints handling, the reality is they aren’t normally the cause of the customer frustration.

Complaints are typically the results of other failures within the business.

Rarely is the complaint specifically about the contact centre experience, retail staff member etc.

So to really drive change and improve complaints handling, you need to take a wider look across your entire business.

With over 30 years experience in managing customer complaints, I’ve hopefully learnt a thing or two so I’ve grouped my 19 tips to improve customer complaints handling through a range of different ‘lenses’.

These include a frontline agent, a customer, internal and processes & targets so you get a more holistic perspective of the steps you can take to improve the complaints handling process.

How to Improve Customer Complaints in the Contact Centre 

1. Empower agents to issue immediate refunds

Have you added up the actual cost of managing a complaint in your organisation?

By the time you factor in everyone’s time (the initial agent, the escalation, processing a refund, fulfilment etc) it’s not uncommon for even a basic claim to cost over $200.

If the customer is seeking a refund for $50 it makes good business sense to empower your agents to issue immediate refunds.

Not only does this make smart commercial sense, it also has the added bonus of improving your customer satisfaction and keeping your agents more engaged.

So do the numbers, put in place some clear processes for the agents to follow and starting reaping the rewards.

2. Ensure your staff have the information they need to do their job properly

With online information and FAQ’s now absorbing some of the more basic enquiries often your staff are left to deal with the more difficult complaints.

Making sure they have access to the right information to handle these calls is critical to success.

This can be in the form of more training or access to online information e.g. Knowledge Management System.

For success, it’s critical that this information is maintained and shared – too often training materials and system information are just ‘set and forget’ when in reality information and learning is constantly evolving.

3. Embrace the power of your frontline team

Front-line agents are a great source of insight into the issues that are driving customer complaints and how things could be improved.

By having an internal complaints feedback tool you can harness this information and feed it back to the senior management team.

This information should be acted on and any changes (or reasons for not making changes) should be fed back to agents via your communication channels.

By making this process highly visible also ensures your staff are aware of the projects you are currently working on and keeps them involved in the process.

Why not have a Hack Day? You can run your own or there are professional companies around that can facilitate them for you.



4. Understand which agents are generating the most complaints

Measuring the numbers of complaints each agent generates can help you identify further coaching opportunities.

Coaching may be required on how to set customer expectations properly (e.g. don’t tell the customer a refund will be issued in 24 hours when it takes 3 weeks) through to system and product training, soft skills.

By understanding which agents are generating more complaints provides you with the best opportunity to support your agents and ultimately help your customer.

5. Introduce accountability for transferring calls

For companies with multiple departments, it’s often too easy for agents to “transfer you to another department” and its a surefire way of really pissing off your customers.

One way to tackle this is to embed a culture of accountability where Team Leaders are held accountable for calls that are transferred.

This ensures that there is a focus on coaching agents to avoid transfers but also ensures that there is a sufficient focus on eliminating some of the (normally internal) reasons calls are required to be transferred.

If there is a significant issue of transferring calls in your organisation you may also want to introduce an “unnecessary transfer” metric that would typically be assessed by your quality department.

This metric assesses all transferred calls to determine how many of those could have been handled without any escalation and should form part of agent/team and centre quality metrics.

 How to Improve the Customer Complaints Process for the Customer 

‘Thank your customer for complaining and mean it. Most will never bother to complain. They’ll just walk away.’

6. Make it easy for your customers to complain

How often is the phone number, complaint form or email address to make a complaint to your organisation buried deep within your website, or worse still, not available at all?

With the proliferation of social media channels, trust me, your customers will still find a way to complain!

By making it difficult to complain does nothing more than creating more frustration for your customer, which on top of the original reason for the complaint, is a surefire way to lose your customers in a permanent capacity.

Yes, it takes resources to resolve complaints but by investing in this area you have a better chance of retaining your existing customers and ideally, you will identify and fix the root cause of the issues to ensure future customers don’t have the same problems!

I never said it was easy to improve complaints handling!

7. Set realistic expectations

Sometimes despite your best intentions to achieve First Call Resolution, there is often follow up work required.

In this instance, it’s important that a realistic expectation is set with the customer with regards to resolution timelines and where relevant, compensation limits.

This can help to ease the pressure on anyone else involved in resolving the issue and can reduce the likelihood of the customer ringing back in unnecessarily tying up valuable resources.

8. Ditch the complaints email address and introduce a complaints form

A generic complaints email address on your website (e.g. ) can attract a wide range of emails about generic issues instead of complaints.

Typically someone in your company then has to read and sort through every email to direct it to the appropriate area.

By installing a complaints form you have the ability to shape the information you gather – typically done through drop-down boxes, tick boxes etc. so you can easily sort your enquiries by priority, type etc. making it much easier and faster to resolve the complaint.

How to Improve your Internal Customer Complaints expectations

9. Use real customers’ stories in the boardroom

Boards and senior management get bombarded by a range of statistics on a daily basis.

Amongst all this data a 1% increase in complaint volumes can seem quite insignificant.

To get senior management to understand some of the challenges your organisation is suffering from, use real customer stories to personalise issues – this includes playing the actual phone call in the boardroom.

It’s a much more powerful way of getting your message across about issues within your organisation (e.g. delivery issues) that can easily get lost when looking at statistics.

Listening to a customer crying about the impact of a late or non-delivery of a parcel or the frustration in your website tracking system continuing to crash is a great way to get some traction.

10. Create a customer forum

Once a month, take the initiative to gather key business unit leaders from each area of your business to hold a customer forum.

Share the latest trends, data and insights (use real examples remember!) and work with your stakeholders to come up with practical solutions to some of the common issues facing your customers.

11. Nominate complaints champions 

Formally pairing up managers from different departments as “complaint champions” can help provide individuals with the single point of contact they need to reach the other department and get an issue resolved.

This provides immediate access for escalation/feedback on any situation as it develops saving valuable internal resources and leading to a quicker resolution for the customer.

12. Understand the source of your complaints

By having a robust complaints management tool you can harness the power within the complaints without necessarily having to analyse every individual complaint.

In a delivery context, understanding that complaints are always occurring in the same postcode enables you to focus on the root cause of the issue so you can take steps to reduce future complaints.

How to Improve Complaints Handling Processes and Targets 

13. Align your targets with customer experience  

Whilst the corporate objectives normally include elements of “it’s all about the customer/customer comes first” mentality often Key Performance Indicators don’t reflect this.

A common example is having targets on the number of calls answered or the length of call (e.g. Average Handling Time / AHT) weighted higher than the quality of the call.

By ensuring your KPIs are aligned with the corporate objectives will improve employee engagement and make it easier to drive initiatives with other departments to improve the customer experience.

14. First Contact Resolution (FCR) is a good target to minimise escalation

By having a First Contact Resolution (FCR) target at the agent level,  you ensure there is a focus on trying to resolve the customer’s query without escalating.

Without an FCR target, it’s too easy for agents to just transfer a call when the going gets tough.

In my experience, though actually defining an FCR target is not an easy task in a lot of centres so we might have to explore that in another article!

15. Ration the reason codes! 

It’s easy to have hundreds of different reason codes right?

But if you are too specific with your reason codes it can be hard for agents to decide what goes where and that will lead to calls ultimately being tagged incorrectly.

These days there are a range of other ways to drill into data (e.g. Speech Analytics or Customer Analytics) so keep your reason codes to the big ‘buckets’ and keep them under 10 choices.

16. Have clear definitions of a complaint

It is important to have clear definitions of what a complaint actually means to your organisation.

If calls are being mislabelled as complaints – when they are actually just general enquires or customers closing an account as they’ve found a cheaper deal – you could be clogging up the system unnecessarily and delaying genuine complaints from being resolved.

An extensive call-listening exercise (listening to around 2,000 calls) should help you to get to the bottom of this.

For example, one contact centre found that 25% of their total volume of complaints were the result of incorrect logging.

And don’t forget to involve all areas of your business in getting sign off on the definition.



17. Treat all channels equally

Make sure all complaints –even those coming in by letter –are handled with equal importance.

This can stop duplicate complaints coming in on different channels, as customers try and work out which channel will get the fastest response.

“At the end of the day, an organisation’s customer service infrastructure is only as good as its worst-performing channel.”

18. Give your complaints team access to social media channels

A large proportion of customers social media comments are complaints-related, so it makes sense for your complaints team to have access to, or be in control of this channel instead of dealing with escalations from other departments.

This enables a quick resolution for common problems and for complaints that are sensitive in nature, it makes it easier to quickly move the conversation offline or into a Direct Message (DM).

The main exception to this is serial complainers, who often seek attention long after their complaint has been dealt with.

A public response can help show your other customers that you have resolved the issue, and (hopefully) send the serial complainer on their way.

19. Train everyone on complaints handling in your induction program

Often new starters don’t receive complaints handling training until they have gained some more experience dealing with the more basic calls.

As you never know where a complaint can originate from this often leads to a poor customer experience if one should arise during a basic call so invest the time upfront and train all staff on your complaints handling procedures.

One way to resolve this is to make sure your complaints culture and procedures are firmly embedded in your agents from day one in the business.

And if you have employees that have to deal with complaints on a regular basis, invest in some formal training on how to manage difficult customers – it will make the world of difference to your employee’s mental wellbeing.

The Wrap-Up

So hopefully that’s given you a few good ideas to improve complaints handling in your business.

The final piece of advice is to measure, measure and measure!

There are now lots of ways to capture the Voice of the Customer including NPS and CSAT as well as some impressive technology using AI.

Customer and business expectations are always changing so if you’ve got any other ideas that have worked for you please share them in the comments.

Oh, and I should just add something about chatbots.

There is an increasing appetite to use chatbots and AI to handle customer complaints.

My simple advice is this.


I’m yet to come across any organisation that’s doing this well and if customers are taking the time to tell you about something that’s going wrong, the last thing you should be doing is trying to palm off the complaint to an automated channel.

Nothing says “I couldn’t care less about you” to a customer than making it difficult to complain and then even when they do, not even having the courtesy to listen to their concerns.


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About Justin Tippett 74 Articles

Justin is the founder of CX Central and one of the leading authorities on Contact Centres and Customer Experience in Australia.

As well as CX Central, Justin manages CX Skills, the leading source of specialist customer experience and contact centre courses in Asia Pacific. He was named as one of the Top 25 Global CX Influencers in 2019.

Justin also provides consulting services for call centres and CX through his CX Consult business including call centre health checks/audits.

He is also responsible for the memes on the Call Centre Legends page followed by over 30k people ?

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