How to handle a complaint – Business English

The customer is always right, or are they? In this video you’ll see two versions of a conversation where a customer makes a complaint. The first is a bad model and the second a good one. We’ll use them to compare the English we use to handle complaints.

How to handle a complaint in English

Here are the top takeaways:
1. Saying sorry matters.
You can say sorry when you don’t hear something and want someone to repeat: ‘Sorry?’
It can be an apology where you accept the blame: ‘That was our mistake. I’m sorry.’
It can also just be an expression of sympathy where no blame is accepted: ‘That’s awful. I’m sorry to hear that.’
2. You need to pay attention, listen and explain what you’re doing: ‘OK, bear with me. I’m just calling it up on my screen’.
3. Rather than saying ‘You’re wrong’ you can say things like ‘That’s strange’ or ‘That’s odd’.
4. Sounding unsure and tentative helps too: ‘It looks like…’

How to handle complaints in English

Today we’re going to show you how you can handle complaints in English.
And how you shouldn’t handle them.
This is going to be a lesson in American English politeness.
And British English politeness.
OK Jay, I’ve got a saying for you: ‘The customer is always right’. Do you agree?
Hmm. No, of course not. Customers are human and they make mistakes.
In Germany they have a similar saying. The customer is king. And in Japanese they
say the customer is God.
Yeah, but customers may not have understood the contract. And some customers
might lie and cheat.
Well, let’s see what you think. Watch a telephone call and see who you think was
in the wrong.

The wrong way to handle complaints in English

Yeah?
At last, a human being.
What?
I’ve spent half an hour trying to get through your automated telephone system.
Well, that’s nothing to do with me. What do you want?
I ordered a sun umbrella from you three weeks ago. It hasn’t arrived, but you’ve
charged my credit card $120!
Who are you?
Vicki Hollett.
And you ordered what?
A sun umbrella.
What date was that?
June 7th and you billed my credit card on June the fourteenth. … Hello? … Hello?
Are you still there?
Yeah, I’m looking it up. OK, we delivered it on the thirteenth.
That’s nonsense.
Aha! And you signed for it.
What? No, I didn’t!
We’ve got a signature, so you must be lying!
This is outrageous. I want to speak to a supervisor!
We don’t have supervisors here. We all work in a team.
Well, I’m telling American Express not to pay this bill!

So who was in the wrong there?
Well, obviously you! You were so rude! I’ll never buy from you again.
Well, you were pretty rude too.
What do you mean?
You started complaining right from the start.

At last, a human being.

Well, everyone gets frustrated with those automated systems.
But it wasn’t my fault.
And then you didn’t pay attention and listen to me!

I ordered a sun umbrella from you three weeks ago.
Who are you?
Vicki Hollett.
And you ordered what?

You see, I’d just told you what the problem was!
But you were so impatient. I needed to look it up on the computer.
Oh, I know.

Hello? … Hello? Are you still there?

If you’d told me you were looking it up, I wouldn’t have got impatient. I had no
idea what you were doing.
But here’s the thing. We’d delivered that umbrella 3 weeks ago, so you were in
the wrong.
But I didn’t receive it.
Uh-uh. We know you did because you signed for it so we have proof.

Aha! And you signed for it.
What? No I didn’t!
We’ve got a signature, so you must be lying!
This is outrageous. I want to speak to a supervisor!
We don’t have supervisors here. We all work in a team.

That must be a terrible team
Or a very supportive one!
Well I’m not paying for that umbrella.
We’ll see. OK, we’re going to look at a different call now. This time the
conversation goes differently.
You have to listen carefully and spot all the differences.

The right way to handle complaints in English

At last, a human being.
I’m sorry?
Well, I’ve just spent half an hour trying to get through your automated telephone
system.
Oh I’m really sorry about that. How can I help you?
Well, I ordered a sun umbrella from you three weeks ago. It hasn’t arrived, but
you’ve charged my credit card $120!
That’s awful. May I have your name?
Vicki Hollett.
And you ordered a sun umbrella. What date was that?
June 7th and you charged my credit card on the fourteenth.
OK. Bear with me. I’m just calling it up on my screen. OK, now this is odd.
According to our records it was delivered on the thirteenth.
Well, I didn’t receive it.
That’s strange. It looks like we have a signature from, … it looks like Jay
something.
Oh, that’s my husband. He must have forgotten to tell me.
So you have received it?
Oh, he’s probably put it in the garage! I’m so sorry to have troubled you.
It’s no problem. If you find it hasn’t arrived, just call us back.
OK, I will. Thanks for your help!
You’re very welcome. Is there anything else I can help you with?
No that’s it. Thanks very much. Bye.
Bye-bye.

See. The customer isn’t always right.
Yeah, but you were a lot nicer to deal with there.
Did you spot the differences? Here’s the first one.

Sunshine Incorporated. Good morning
At last, a human being.
I’m sorry?
Well, I’ve just spent half an hour trying to get through your automated telephone
system.
Oh I’m really sorry about that. How can I help you?

I was more professional there. I answered with the company name.
And you apologized for keeping me waiting.
Even though it wasn’t my fault. ‘I’m sorry’ can mean different things.
We can say it when we don’t hear what someone’s said. Sorry?
And we can say ‘sorry’ when we make a mistake, but it can also just mean ‘I’m
sorry to hear that’.
But you didn’t actually accept the blame for me having to wait, but you were
sympathetic and made me feel better. And you listened and told me what you
were doing.

OK. Bear with me. I’m just calling it up on my screen. OK, this is odd. According to
our records it was delivered on the thirteenth.

So I felt you were professional again there.
We started to develop a relationship.
Well, yeah. You didn’t accuse me of lying.

But I didn’t receive it.
That’s strange. It’s looks like we have a signature from, … it looks like Jay
something.

So you said ‘That’s strange’. And you sounded a little unsure and tentative.
Yeah, even though I knew you were wrong. The customer isn’t always right but
sometimes you have to pretend they might be.
And that made it easier for me to admit that I was wrong. I’d buy from you again.
Well, thank you. By the way, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you.
So to summarize, if you have to handle a complaint, be professional.
And apologize. Sometimes you can say you’re sorry without accepting any blame.
And tell people what you’re doing if you have to keep them waiting.
It’s all about being polite really. When you have to tell someone they’re wrong, do
it nicely.
You can say ‘That’s strange’ or ‘That’s odd’ instead of ‘You’re a liar!’
We should make some more videos about how to be diplomatic in English. They
could be useful.
They’re on my list. We’re going to so if you’d like to see them, make sure you’ve
subscribed to our channel.
And if you’ve enjoyed this video, why not share it with a friend?
I bet they’d like to see it too.
Thanks for watching everyone. Bye-bye.
Bye now.

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