A Winning Response to Customers’ Complaints About Teammates

Leaders, how would your customer facing employees respond to customers who lodge complaints about their service teammates?

This is one of several perilous subjects I discuss with the reps, agents, CSRs, and technical support reps that I teach. I can hear their discomfort as they discuss what to do.

They are torn between being a good team member and being an empathetic customer service professional.

Free your team members from the unproductive trap of being stuck in the middle. Raise this subject with your team and discuss a winning response.

A Winning Response to Customers' Complaints About Teammates Image by:furioiusgeorge81

Basic Truths Make the Winning Response Clear

In the face of customer complaints about your teammates, remember …

  1. Customers’ perceptions are their reality. This is not the time to dig into and challenge their view. They will most likely think that you don’t believe them or that your team’s standard of care is — substandard.
  2. Defending your teammates ruins the customer experience and can drive customers away forever. When customers tell you how badly your teammate treated them, it is a sign that your team has failed them in some way. What will you, as a team member, do to keep customers coming back?
  3. Moving to a quick, “how may I help you”, lacks empathy. It projects indifference and a lack of caring. Ignoring the emotion may calm you yet it sacrifices a great opportunity to turn a bad moment into another loyal connection.

A winning response delivers empathy from the team, apologizes for the impact on the customer, and addresses the initial customer request. It isn’t disloyal to the team if the team is united in the mission of delivering the ultimate customer service.

Empathize with feelings don’t analyze for accuracy.
Learn from complaints don’t defend as if attacked. Customer service is not an equal relationship. It is a giving profession that takes maturity, commitment to excellence, and at times self-restraint.

As your team refines their people-skills with every customer interaction, it becomes the engine for super customer experience and the magnet for repeat business.

I look forward to tuning your engine with workshops tailored specifically to the personality types on your team!

From my professional experience to your success,
Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach™

Related Posts:
The Celebratory Give & Take of Customer Experience Superstars
Psychological Barriers to a Super Customer Experience

©2012 Kate Nasser, CAS, Inc. Somerville, NJ. If you want to re-post or republish this post, please email info@katenasser.com. Thank you for respecting intellectual capital.

Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach™, delivers coaching, consulting, training, and keynotes on leading change, employee engagement, teamwork, and delivering the ultimate customer service. She turns interaction obstacles into interpersonal success. See this site for workshop outlines, keynote footage, and customer results.

12 Responses to “A Winning Response to Customers’ Complaints About Teammates”

  1. Hi Kate,

    As always you give some great advice and I totally agree that any team should be encouraged to explore how they would respond in this type of situation.

    This is a challenging situation for many team members, where there is a tension between doing the right thing for the customer, and supporting a colleague. Whilst the right solution is perhaps clear, it is not always easy to implement, especially in the heat of the moment.

    A good team will always rally round and support its members but this does mean defending or condoning wrong doing by a team member. A customer complaint regarding a team member is a team responsibility because it impacts on the credibility and reputation of the whole team, and indeed, the organisation.

    The team needs to have a clear strategy for managing this sort of situation and this is where training and preparation can help. Often by using some simple “What if” scenarios the team can prepare themselves and have clear roles that can be adopted when the need arises. Preparing in this way means that when a situation occurs it can be dealt with efficiently from the customer’s perspective, but also that the team member receives appropriate and effective support too.

    If handled effectively, occurrences like this serve to strengthen the team whilst developing good customer relationships at the same time.

    Thought provoking post Kate, thanks for sharing.


    • Kate Nasser says:

      It is as you say John, a thought-provoking situation and preparation makes the difference. The sticking point for most teams is the desire to analyze whether or not the customer was harmed before they step in and empathize/apologize.

      It’s the customer’s perception that matters not the service provider’s in the case of interpersonal treatment. When the team can unite around that instead of around a defensive position for team members, they make giant strides forward in caring for customers.

      Many thanks for your contribution!

  2. Khalid says:

    Excellent post Kate!

    Some people take advantage of that specially when selling is compensated on number of customers served. Colleagues might get sabotaged by others to have inferior service than others! Back stapping could become common in environment without united team spirit.

    Thanks for the message Kate


  3. Shep Hyken says:

    Hi Kate – Great post, as usual. Couple of things come to mind.

    The employee gets to take ownership of everything that comes their way – even if it is “not their department” or if someone else made a mistake. If there really is a team approach it doesn’t matter who gets the call.

    Second, there should be some kind of debrief with the team. If there was a problem between a team member and a customer, learn from it. If the problem really was with the team member/employee, then deal with it. Find them a non-customer facing job or help them find another career. (I know that’s harsh, but a company can’t afford to have the wrong people on the front line.

  4. Jeff Toister says:

    Customer service leaders would do well to address issues that prevent employees from heading your advice. I have similar discussions with the teams I work with and hear some consistent themes:

    1. Employees are less likely to defend a co-worker if they don’t like the co-worker, but they may do something worse — agree with the customer that the co-workers is entirely to blame!
    2. Employees grow tired of hearing repeated complaints about issues they feel they have no control over, such as a co-worker whose performance consistently falls short.
    3. Employees are concerned about taking the blame, especially if their leader is the type of person who comes down hard on people who make mistakes.

  5. Samuel says:

    “It isn’t disloyal to the team if the team is united in the mission of delivering the ultimate customer service.”

    Very good point. I think in every relationship, the parties involved have to be united in one common goal. Famous biblical quote “a house divided against itself will not stand” only when the team is united can they work together and cover each other’s shortcomings. If the team is not agreeable on their priorities, they will not be able to perform effectively.

    I agree that empathizing with the customer is not disloyalty. Ultimately, the team’s mission is not to serve each other, but to provide great customer service.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Hi Samuel,
      So pleased you have shared your thoughts here at Smart Senseabilities(tm) and a big thanks for the additional quote. I would go on to say that once people focus on defending individual actions at the expense of the mission — they cease to be a true team. If the mission is no longer valid, change the mission. Don’t pretend that you all are meeting it when you aren’t.

      Hope you will visit again and add your insights to any post that catches your eye.

      Warmest regards,

  6. Adam says:

    Excellent points Kate, and not an issue that is commonly prepared for in most trainings. Of course, empathy and non-defensiveness are key. I would add that sometimes when a customer is complaining about a coworker, they are asking to be reassured that their experience with that coworker is not reflective of how the business usually runs. Sometimes a careful scene-setting with what “our usual standards are” can go a long way.

  7. Mila Araujo says:

    An excellent subject, I am so glad you covered it here. I think there is a true balance you can achieve in a situation like this. When this happens in my team, the first thing I do is listen with empathy to the client and demonstrate I am as equally concerned as they are, I also, however make a point to include in those empathetic responses the standards of our company and how we certainly are very dismayed to hear this, and then also include as the opportunity arises my faith in our people, and how it certainly is not the norm that this happened, and support the background or abilities of the rep in question.

    I don’t defend the actions, but rather turn it so that its clear that we both agree whatever it was was unacceptable, the company would also agree, and the rep although usually very experienced or whatever – clearly something went wrong and that issue will also be addressed with them, and rectified.

    So I do my best to confirm the issue will be addressed, the rep will be spoken to, the integrity of the rep, and how it is not in their history to have wanted to leave a client with this feeling, and THANK the client for bringing the whole thing to my attention so we can resolve it, while of course apologizing, acknowledging and rectifying the situation. It smooths out the feeling the client had, resolves their issue, while still enabling me to support my team and turn the comment into a positive opportunity for alignment of customer expectation, company vision and service delivery. 🙂

    Tricky, but if you think of those three important things, you can always take a positive spin on a negative and still speak well of your company while fully addressing the customer issue.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Thanks for your thoughts on this Milas. Many great points.

      I do respectfully disagree about stating .. how the rep is generally very good. It can detour the focus to a risky world of excuses — in the customers’ eyes. Customers don’t care how things are generally *at the moment they are being treated poorly.

      If we leave this out, the customer clearly hears that the standards of care were not met in his/her case and it needs to be better. A home run of service recovery care and a straight line to continuous improvement.

      Warmest regards and thanks for sharing your full view,

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