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How to Respond to Customer Complaints: A 6-Step Process for Success

How to respond to customer complaints

Running a customer support team comes with its fair share of challenges — complaints pouring in, team members unsure about how to handle upset customers, and negative reviews impacting your bottom line. 

Appeasing unhappy customers and repairing relationships is no easy task. It takes empathy, strategy, and resilience.. 

This guide provides a step-by-step framework to train your team to respond to customer complaints and 13 customer complaint response templates your team can use right away. 

Let’s dive in.

6-step process for replying to customer complaints

You can use this process to respond to complaints anywhere they occur — in a live chat, on a phone call, or on a social media platform.

1. Carefully read or listen to the complaint

Your representatives should have the full conversation history before trying to resolve a customer’s issue. This means they’ve read email threads, reviewed open or pending tickets, and checked social media comments about the complaint. Zendesk’s Customer Experience report found that 70% of customers expect companies to consolidate information on their behalf so that they do not have to repeat information to different representatives. 

It can be tempting to skim over the complaint and send a templated response, especially if it’s riddled with typos or repetitive language. But a better approach is to step back and carefully jot down the key issues to tailor your response to the complaint.

“Don’t just use a templated response after reading a query quickly; take your time to respond in a way that addresses what the customer is reaching out about.” 

Justina Altiere, VP of Customer Experience at OpenPhone

💡Pro tip: If your customers are complaining publicly on social media platforms, make sure you reach out and continue the conversation in a private channel, at least until the issue is resolved. 

2. Determine which team members may need to be involved

When reaching out to complain, customers are often impatient and frustrated. They don’t want to wait. So go the extra mile internally to involve team members who can quickly provide a solution. 

For example, if a customer’s account is blocked, you may need to reach out internally to your compliance team. If a customer is experiencing a bug, report it to engineering. 

3. Bridge the gap with empathy

Once a representative has carefully taken in the context of the complaint, they’ll be prepared to respond in a way that meets the customer where they are.

“Empathy is the most powerful tool for taking back control of a conversation or talking a customer down from the ledge. Empathy is not an apology, nor is it agreeing with the customer; it is simply stating that you can understand what they are feeling.”

Alex Bulloch, Sr. Customer Support Manager at OpenPhone

A good practice for showing you care is to listen intently and calibrate to the customer’s tone of voice. If they’re angry, don’t respond with smiling emojis and exclamation points — you’ll just infuriate them. If they’re frustrated from  trying to resolve an issue, speak to them calmly, and don’t rush them through the process. 

Nykki Yeager, CEO and Co-founder at Flight CX, adds, “While we love macros, canned responses, and phone scripts, these are times to add color to those responses so it feels personal and shows that someone cares.”

Here are some example statements to show empathy: 

Hi [first name], I can understand how frustrating this issue is. I’m here to help you solve it.

Hi [first name], thank you for bringing this to my attention. I can imagine how inconvenient this must be for you. 

Hi [first name], I can imagine how disappointing this must be for you. Thank you for your patience as we solve this problem.

4. Summarize the complaint back to the customer

By summarizing the complaint, you assure the customer you’ve heard them. Much like when a waiter repeats your order you feel acknowledged, and having a rep restate your complaint is encouraging. 

Alex advises, “Acknowledge the issue, summarizing what they just explained to demonstrate you listened and understood. This also gives them an opportunity to correct you if you missed anything.”

Here are some example scripts to show understanding:

I understand you’re reaching out to us because of [complaint summary].

I see you’re experiencing issues with [recap multiple complaints].

I understand that you’re experiencing difficulties related to [summarize the issue briefly]. I’m here to listen and work with you to find the best possible solution.

5. Let the customer know your plan to help

The last thing customers want is to feel like a number on a spreadsheet. They want to know that someone is actively handling their issue. If the complaint doesn’t have an immediate resolution, let them know you’re working toward one. 

For example, you can let the customer know you’re escalating their issue internally or that you’ve performed an action on their behalf (such as submitting a bug report). 

If the issue has taken a long time to reach a resolution, you can help reduce customer dissatisfaction with an offer. 

“Offering something like a small discount or add-on could help [turn things around]. If you’re in e-commerce and a customer is experiencing a shipping delay, the offer could even be a choice to cancel the order,” says Nykki. 

Example scripts to inform customers of your plan:

To address this issue, I’m going to escalate this internally and will follow up when I have an update.

I am going to submit your feedback to our leadership team.

I’m going to bring your issue to the attention of our support team for immediate action. We’ll work diligently to find a solution and update you as soon as possible.

6. Close the conversation on a positive note

A psychological effect called the peak-end rule causes people to remember how an experience felt at its peak and at its end. While an upset customer will always remember the peak as unpleasant, you can create a positive ending. Your final message counts. Maintain a positive tone, express gratitude, and invite them to follow up within a certain timeframe when appropriate (even if your team offers proactive customer service).

Example scripts to close a conversation:

Thank you again for your business, [customer name]. I appreciate your patience as we look into this.

I understand your frustration with this process. I am committed to seeing it through until we reach a resolution. If you haven’t heard back from us in [X business days], feel free to reach out to support or call [XXX-XXX-XXXX].

I’m glad we could address your issue today. If there’s anything else you need assistance with in the future, feel free to contact us. Take care.

Do’s and don’ts of responding to complaints

Here are some pointers for responding to complaints for the best chance at a quick and peaceful resolution. 

  • Don’t give excuses: Excuses can further annoy or alienate your customers. Even when you’re trying to offer a helpful explanation or clear up a misunderstanding, keep this part of the conversation brief. 

Alex says, “Do not deflect or point fingers. No matter who’s at fault, the customer is paying money to the business, so the business is expected to fix it. Shouldering the blame lowers authority and gives the impression that you don’t want to bother with fixing it.”

  • Do understand the customer’s mood: Excessive enthusiasm (even virtually) can come across as tone-deaf or disingenuous when your customers are angry or frustrated. Stick to a professional but empathetic tone, regardless of the severity of the issue. 
  • Don’t automatically apologize: Over-apologizing can give the impression that the rep is not equipped to handle the situation. 

Alex says, “While apologizing is appropriate in many situations, avoid apologizing when possible as it often unintentionally admits fault and puts the support rep in a less authoritative position. Instead, the same feelings can often be expressed through gratitude: ‘Sorry this took so long’ versus ’Thank you for your patience while we investigated further.’”

  • Do use positive language: Avoid words and phrases like ‘unfortunately’ or ‘I can’t,’ and replace them with direct, positive language about what you can do. Negative words make bad news sound harsher than it needs to be.

6 Written customer complaint response examples

Understanding how to respond to customer complaints effectively makes you come across as being in control. Your customers trust you to resolve their issues when you appear empathetic yet confident. 

We’ve created 6 email and text templates so you can respond proactively to customer complaints and not lose sight of strong customer service etiquette

1. Customer service complaints

Service issues are among the most common types of complaints. Use this email and SMS template to respond: 

Email response template

Subject: Thank you for your feedback, [customer name]


Hello [customer name],

Thank you for reaching out and letting us know about this issue. 

We apologize for the inconvenience caused by [mention the specific issue briefly]. Our team is working on it and [issue] should be resolved by [date/time]. 

To make things right, we would like to offer you [mention compensation, if applicable, like a discount, refund, etc.]. We are also implementing measures to ensure that this does not happen again.

Thank you for your understanding and patience. If you have any more questions or concerns, please feel free to reach out. We are here to help!


[Your name]

[Your position]

[Company contact information]

Copy to Clipboard

SMS/chat response template

Hi [customer name], thank you for letting us know about [briefly mention the issue]. We’re sorry for the trouble. Here’s what we’re doing to fix it: [brief explanation of the steps being taken]. We’ll update you as soon as it’s resolved. 

2. Delayed shipping complaint

Late shipments can be disastrous for your small business. According to a report by Convey, 84% of consumers are less likely to return to a brand after just one poor delivery experience. Use these email and customer service text templates to keep them in the loop during shipment delays. 

Email template

Subject: Update on Your Shipment, [customer name]


Hello [customer name],

Thank you for your patience as we worked on getting you a shipment update. 

There’s been an unexpected delay due to [reason for delay], but we’ve escalated your order request internally. We expect your package to be delivered by [new estimated delivery date].

We understand that this is an important order and apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused. As a token of our appreciation for your patience, we’d like to offer you [compensation, if applicable].

Please let us know if there is anything else we can do for you. 


[Your name]

[Your position]

[Company contact information]

Copy to Clipboard

SMS/chat response template

Hi [customer name], we apologize for the delay in your shipment. It’s now scheduled to arrive by [new estimated date]. Thank you for waiting while we resolve this. Here’s [compensation] for your next order!

3. Product complaint 

Before responding to a product complaint, make sure you have all the details about the defective product. If not, request them in your email or SMS reply. 

Email template

Subject: Your Concern About [product name], [customer name]


Hello [customer name],

Thank you for reaching out with your concerns about [product name]. We’re sorry to hear that you’ve had an unsatisfactory experience. We’d like to address it immediately. 

Could you please provide more details about the problem or send us a photo? It’ll help us better understand the situation and strategize on how to fix it. 

In the meantime, we’d like to offer you [compensation, if applicable]. 

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to rectify it. 


[Your name]

[Your position]

[Company contact information]

Copy to Clipboard

SMS/chat response template

Hi [customer name], sorry to hear about your issue with [product name]. Can you provide more details or a photo? We’re here to make things right.

4. Technical issue complaint 

Troubleshooting problems pop up often for technology-based businesses, but they can be very inconvenient for customers. Use these templates to respond to customers when dealing with technical issues: 

Email template

Subject: Technical Support for [issue], [customer name]


Hello [customer name],

We’ve received your query regarding the [specific technical issue, e.g., number porting problem]. Thank you for bringing this to our attention.

Our technical team is looking into it, and we anticipate having an update for you by [expected resolution time].

We apologize for any inconvenience this has caused and appreciate your patience as we work to fix this issue.

If you have any further questions or need additional assistance, please don’t hesitate to reach out.


[Your name]

[Your position]

[Company contact information]

Copy to Clipboard

SMS/chat response template

Hi [customer name], we’re addressing the [specific issue] and will keep you updated. Expected resolution by [time]. Thanks for your patience!

5. Billing complaint

Incorrect charges — or even ones perceived to be incorrect — can drive a wedge between you and your customer. Use these templates to calm them down while you work on the issue: 

Email template

Subject: Your Billing Inquiry, [customer name]


Hello [customer name],

Thank you for contacting us about your billing concern. 

We’ve reviewed your account and found [explain the issue briefly, e.g., an incorrect charge due to an error]. We are currently [what you are doing to resolve it]. You can expect to see the adjustment of [amount] within [time frame].

Please accept our apologies for any confusion, and let us know if you have any more questions.

Warm regards,

[Your name]

[Your position]

[Company contact information]

Copy to Clipboard

SMS/chat response template

Hi [customer name], we’re working on your billing issue. Expect an adjustment of [amount] within [time frame]. Thank you for your patience!

6. Social media complaint 

Customers airing grievances over social media can hurt your brand image overnight – especially without an adequate response.  A report by Sprout Social found that 46% of consumers have used social media to call out or complain about a brand.

The best practice is to write a public response before you take the conversation to a private inbox. 

Here are three sample scripts your team can use: 

Hi [customer name], we’re sorry to hear about your bad experience. We’d like to learn more about what happened and make things right. Could you please DM us with more details?

Thanks for bringing this to our attention, [customer name]. We understand your frustration and are looking into this as a priority. Could you please share more details via DM?

Hey [customer name], we’re working on your issue, and we’ve DMed you the steps we’re taking to resolve it. 

Equip your team to better handle customer complaints with OpenPhone

Talking angry customers down from a ledge can be the difference between a thriving business and a revolving door of customers. 

With a phone system like OpenPhone, you can get your team on the same page by saving these customer response templates as snippets and then using them as needed. A modern business phone system also helps give your team visibility into every customer interaction with conversation history in one place.

Know someone who’d benefit from this guide? Feel free to share.

If you’re looking for more strategies and tips, read our expert-driven advice for how to deal with difficult customers.

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