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Q. Can you give tips on writing complaint response letters?

I sure can. Here’s my 5-step process for responding to customer complaint emails…

1. Apologize

Making an apology to customers after things go wrong is positively related to satisfaction with the recovery. When a service employee apologizes to a customer, she conveys politeness, courtesy, concern, effort, and empathy.

Take a look at this outright apology from JetBlue Airlines after a major service mishap. (See the first sentence of JetBlue’s response)

 Click image to enlarge

2. Acknowledge and Empathize

It’s important for you to acknowledge the customer’s situation and express empathy. This helps you establish rapport and it initiates the trust rebuilding process. Acknowledge and empathize with a phrase such as, “I realize how frustrating it must have been to get the Widget home and discover it didn’t work properly.”

For a picture-perfect example of how to acknowledge and empathize with a customer in a problem situation, take a look at the last sentence of paragraph two in the JCPenney Portraits email below.

Click image to enlarge

3. Provide an explanation of how/why the problem happened

A vital, but often overlooked element of customer recovery is to provide an explanation for how or why the problem happened. Taking the time to explain to a customer what might have caused the problem helps organizations re-establish trust and regain customer goodwill.

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.  Here’s what we think may have happened…”

Here’s how JetBlue provided an explanation of how the problem happened in the example letter from above. 

“The storm disrupted the movement of aircraft, and, more importantly, disrupted the movement of JetBlue’s pilot and inflight crewmembers who were depending on those planes to get them to the airports where they were scheduled to serve you. With the busy President’s Day weekend upon us, rebooking opportunities were scarce and hold times at 1-800-JETBLUE were unusually long or not even available, further hindering our recovery efforts.”

 4. Explain how you will resolve the issue (or tell the customer what you’ve already done) 

Take the time to explain to customers exactly what will happen next. This explanation helps put customers at ease and builds confidence that you really care to resolve the issue and regain goodwill. JCPenney Portraits carried out this step (from the example above) this way:

“To that end, you can be assured that your email will be forwarded to the District Manager, Ms. Johnson for her review and investigation. Additionally you will be receiving a letter for four free sheets of portraits at a future sitting as a way of apology.  I realize that this does not make up for the time and effort already spent with all of this but I do hope that it does in some way show how truly regretful I am.” 

5. Thank the customer for their business and invite the customer back.

End your letter on a positive note with a statement similar to these examples.

Here’s how JetBlue closed its amazing apology letter:

“You deserved better – a lot better – from us last week and we let you down. Nothing is more important than regaining your trust and all of us here hope you will give us the opportunity to once again welcome you onboard and provide you the positive JetBlue Experience you have come to expect from us.”

JCPenney Portraits did it this way:

“We want to thank you for your patronage and for bringing these concerns to our attention. We certainly do not wish to loose you as a valued customer. I am confident that a future visit to our studio will better reflect our commitment to customer satisfaction.”

Follow my simple 5-step process for responding to complaint letters and you will restore customer confidence and regain goodwill after even the most devastating service mishap.

See also: The Corporate Apology: How to Apologize In 5 Easy Steps.

Be sure to also check out this example from Southwest Airlines.

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