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How to resolve customer complaints in less than 4 hours

The growth of social media has led to a new generation of customers who expect everything instantly - including complaint resolution.

This article offers up to date advice on how to make these ambitious resolution times a reality.

Once reserved for premium customers, the 4 hours response time to resolve a complaint was defined well before social media gained popularity. Now social media has conditioned customers to expect an immediate response. Organisations that seek to compete are advised to adapt to meet their customer’s expectations.

This checklist gives some core elements to consider:


  1. Have a service strategy with well-defined procedures for managing complaints for all channels. This should include the customer journey, service failure points and complaints with key words, as used by the customer.
  1. Ensure your organization has the capability to respond effectively. Consider:
    - People (the right people with the required skills)
    - Review internal processes to ensure they are current and documented to support the customer journey
    Technology – does it allow staff to use multiple platforms simultaneously?
  1. Have an agreed engagement policy with all stakeholders, defining the why, when and how to respond to customer enquires.
  1. Have an automated social media monitoring system that reports on and analyses the right data sources, real time. Visit your own sites (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook for a reality check.
  1. Recruit, train and develop your staff for the competencies to resolve your customer’s complaints well, through all channels. (Prioritise communication, problem solving and empathy skills, written and verbal).
  1. Ensure frontline staff have desktop/tablet access to history of customer communication and company responses. Adapt existing CRM system to view social media.
  1. Strive to build a transparent culture where mistakes are acknowledged and customer service is prioritized.



Define if complaints are ‘an expression of dissatisfaction with a service or product (an incident) or if it is a service request, (where something is being given in addition.) The internal debate on definitions is part of the process required in reaching clarity. Once done:

  1. Establish ownership internally, identifying trends and recurring issues.
  1. Fast track high profile complaints for resolution. Be mindful of the channel used by the customer. Social media channels have the potential to reach a vast international public audience and do severe reputational and commercial damage.
  1. Keep the customer informed – even if their case is not resolved, updates on progress will serve to build relationship and appease dissatisfaction.
  1. Set realistic expectations – some complaints will take longer to resolve, particularly when third parties are involved.
  1. Control the controllable and meet promises – proactively manage and monitor deliverables and deadlines.
  1. Be open about the timescale for the uncontrollable second and third level or third party involvement but don't blame others.
  1. Listen and put yourself in the place of the customer, build empathy and relationship throughout. Aim to have the customer feel good even in adverse conditions.



  1. Capture the learning points so that your organisation can improve the service it provides.
  1. Allow your team members to put forward their ideas and solutions for improving performance.


Many organisations do not treat customers who complain well. This may be unintentional but it is now a high risky strategy. With a little thought a complaint dealt with well can become a loyal customer and an advocate for your organization.


Delivering Effective Social Customer Service, Blunt & Hill Wilson Wiley (2013)



Contributor: Steve Shellabear @

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