Practical Application: Addressing Customer Service Complaints

Instructor: Scott Tuning

Scott has been a faculty member in higher education for over 10 years. He holds an MBA in Management, an MA in counseling, and an M.Div. in Academic Biblical Studies.

No matter what line of work you're in, customer complaints are part of the game. How you handle them, however, often makes the difference between keeping and losing a customer.

Resolving Customer Service Complaints

In the lesson Resolving Customer Service Complaints lesson, you learned that there are five key steps to resolving a complaint:

  1. Listen to the problem
  2. Empathize with the situation
  3. Ask how the customer would like the situation resolved
  4. Make and execute a plan to resolve the complaint
  5. Follow up to ensure the customer is satisfied

Let's take a look at a customer service scenario to see what happens when these steps are effectively and ineffectively applied.


Jennifer was getting more furious by the minute. Her 11:50 am flight should have arrived at the destination airport at 4:40 pm, but a four-hour delay meant she didn't touch down until after 8:00 pm. Jennifer grabbed her bags and proceeded to XYZ Car Rental to pick up the vehicle she reserved a month earlier.

When she arrived, however, the lights were off and a sign read:

Closed Sign

Jennifer checked XYZ's website for information about late arrivals. The website clearly says ''Flight delays are no problem. Our on-site team strives to provide the highest levels of customer service. We won't go home until you're on your way.''

Jennifer called the company to cancel her reservation so she could rent a car from another company. But it wasn't that easy. The rep on the other end of the call told her that she would forfeit her deposit for inadequate cancellation notice. When she asked what she should do to get her car without losing her deposit, the rep said, ''We will be open at 7:45 tomorrow morning. You can pick it up then.''

After an already stressful day, Jennifer exploded. She declared a 'customer service war' on the rental company. She called again and demanded to speak to a supervisor. The Tier 2 supervisor was sympathetic to her. He asked Jennifer how she would like the complaint resolved and then promised a refund. ''Problem solved,'' thought Jennifer. Not quite.

In the morning, as she was preparing for her sales presentation, an email notification popped up on her phone. The sender was ''Tier 3 Customer Service'' and the message read:

''Jennifer, I apologize for the inconvenience you experienced. Unfortunately, our Tier 2 customer service supervisor was incorrect about the refund. Per our cancellation policy, your deposit cannot be refunded. Thank you for contacting us, and we hope to be your rental car company of choice in the future.''

Jennifer contacted customer service one more time to let them know that she was not happy about the rescinded refund. She also disputed the credit card charge, lodged a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, and peppered social media with an account of her bad experience. Finally, she left negative reviews of the company on every website platform she could find. She expected to get another call or email from XYZ customer service, but she never heard from them.


Jennifer is clearly unsatisfied with XYZ's customer service. Use the following questions to analyze the scenario and determine what went wrong.

  • Did the initial customer service representative handle Jennifer's complaint appropriately? Why or why not?
  • Did the Tier 2 customer service supervisor handle Jennifer's complaint appropriately? Why or why not?
  • Did the Tier 3 customer service handle Jennifer's complaint appropriately? Why or why not?
  • Were the execution and follow-up steps handled appropriately? Why or why not?

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