Here’s a scary thought – Every response you provide to a customer complaint counts. Getting the messaging right is key; it can influence your overall brand perception and impact your bottom line.

Interacting with a customer using a questionable tone can leave you at the mercy of the disgruntled customer. Just imagine… your email response plastered over the internet or your social media response shared for all the world to see.

We contacted 100 companies across the UK; from our research we found a staggering 50% of customer  complaints and queries were answered inadequately, some weren’t dealt with immediately and some weren’t answered at all! Across all sectors, only 45% of the companies gave an immediate response. Retail faired the best with 90% of the companies providing an instant auto – response (some specifying response within a specific SLA); interestingly 20% of those retailers failed to respond thereafter. We also found that among the email replies we did receive, some were a bit sloppy; filled with mistakes that would leave marketing departments across the country a little red faced.

Email customer service at its very core exists to provide customers with quick answers. In theory, this approach enables companies to reduce their operation costs significantly. In reality however, email customer service become even more costly than telephone customer service. Especially if you suffer from inconsistent agent messaging or you don’t have email management software in place.

Here are our top tips for handling customer complaints via email or social media.

1. Email tip – Make sure you read your customer’s query fully

A staggering 46% percent of consumers are frustrated by unanswered questions via email interaction. We think this is because employees often stop at the first problem described in the email and they, at best, skim the rest of the email. Read the entire email before typing anything.

Our suggestion – copy your customer’s email into your reply.

After pasting the customer’s content into your reply, go paragraph by paragraph through the customer’s email and type your response after each of the customer’s paragraphs. You are, in essence, taking the customer’s email and breaking it into little workable chunks.

2. Email Tip – Restore faith – open with a “thank you!”

Some companies begin their reply “We have received your email dated…” We say avoid this. The fact that you’re responding to the email is proof that you have received the customer’s email.

Our suggestion – Save your word count

Immediately go into your response in a way that will help restore customer confidence. Here are a few examples:

“Thank you for taking the time to write to us.”

“Thank you for your email. We appreciate customers who let us know when things aren’t right.”

“Thank you so much for taking the time to write to us. We appreciate the opportunity to clarify what we think has happened.” (This is ideal for a response email to a customer who is actually responsible for the error or when you cannot honour the customer’s request for a refund or exchange.)

3. Email and Social Media Tip – Sorry doesn’t need to be the hardest word

We’ve found a lot of standard company responses via email or social media don’t seem to include an apology. To not apologise to a customer who has experienced a problem is to miss an opportunity.

Our suggestion – Say sorry build loyalty

Do you know that 68% of customers leave because they feel undervalued?  A typical business only hears from 4% of its dissatisfied customers; the other 96% leave quietly.  Just because a customer doesn’t tell you they feel undervalued doesn’t mean this isn’t the case.  Remember in a relationship, it’s the little things that matter.

Let us tell you a secret – an apology doesn’t have to be an admission of fault; it’s not even about placing blame. The whole point is to convey that you genuinely care about how the customer was treated and to regain goodwill.

4. Social and Email Tip – Explain why or how the problem happened

We are often shocked at how often this vital element of customer recovery is missed. Customers appreciate transparency. Taking the time to explain to a customer what might have caused the problem helps organisations re-establish trust.

Our suggestion – keep your explanation short!

Providing an explanation can be as simple as saying, “Thanks for taking the time to let us know about _____. We appreciate customers who let us know when things aren’t right.”

Customers will always appreciate you taking the time to explain why the problem occurred and again, this gesture on your part helps to re-establish trust.

5. Email and Social Media Tip – Offer compensation or discount codes occasionally

Of course, we know offering compensation left right and centre doesn’t make good business sense but when the problem is clearly the fault of the company, recompense (in the form of discounts, free merchandise, refunds, gift cards, coupons, and product samples) will help you restore customer confidence and regain goodwill. This particular method of handling customer complaints works well if there has been an issue raised on social media.  It paints your business in a great light and can even help attract new business.

Our suggestion – Don’t hold back when it comes to compensating customers after a service failure.

Your reward will be increased customer satisfaction, loyalty, and powerfully persuasive positive word-of-mouth advertising.

6. Email and Social Media Tip – Proof your copy!

Grammar gaffes make your company look bad. You and I both know spell check (and even grammar check) won’t catch everything. You are going to have to invest a little time to read and re-read every line of your emails to make sure they look and read professional. Here are some hard and fast email proofing tips:

i) Point with your finger and read one word at a time. Yes, this will take some time, but you’ll be amazed at how many mistakes you capture this way.
ii) Read your email aloud and silently.
iii)Proof for only one type of mistake at a time. Do one read through just for punctuation, another for word usage, and another for accuracy of your message.
iv)Print your email out and read it.

Our suggestion – Invest in some customer service software with custom templates.

Don’t spend time manually writing out email responses.  Why not get your marketing department to design a few standard responses? The benefit; pre-proofed copy in a standard consistent format. Using pre-written templates can help improve brand perception and increases the productivity and effectiveness of customer service staff.

7. Email and Social Media Response – Make it quick

In the new age of the customer we demand faster interaction. Realistically, to make your company appear like it’s on the ball, you really need to be shooting for providing your customer’s with an email response within one working day and responding to social media interactions within the hour. Is this easy? Of course not, but there are ways to help improve your response times.

Our suggestion – align your business processes and manpower to make it happen and invest in software that can reduce some manual repetitive administrative tasks.

Why is this important?  A speedy response will improve your corporate credibility with consumers and it boosts customer satisfaction. Research shows the longer it takes for companies to respond to email complaints, the greater the customer’s perception that they have been treated unfairly. Every email that goes out from your customer service team has your company’s brand in the signature line, it puts your reputation on the line, and it forms a binding document between you and the customer.

Make sure your message is professional, actively works to regain customer goodwill, and is free of embarrassing gaffes. Follow these simple seven steps and your emails will bless you, rather than curse you.

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