#45 How to handle a dissatisfied customer (Adv)

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will help you speak, understand and connect in Australia –
This lesson suits intermediate learners. After listening, test your knowledge with our quiz.

Learning notes

Language objective

How to respond to a business complaint  

Different phrases to use to find out more about the problem a customer’s problem:

  • Can you please give me some more details about [issue] so that I can help? 
  • Could you give me some specifics about… ?  

Different phrases to use when taking the responsibility for the problem:

  • It looks like there’s been an oversight on our part. 
  • There seems to be some sort of mix-up. 
  • It looks like we might have made a mistake. 

Different phrases to use when offering a solution for the problem:

  • Would you like me to send you a replacement? 
  • Can I offer you a refund? 

Different phrases to use when we are unable to help a customer:

  • I’m sorry. I wish I could help you, but this is outside of our control. 
  • I’d like to help, but there’s nothing much I can do. 

Handling a dissatisfied customer is addressing and resolving the concerns or complaints raised by a customer who is unhappy with a product, service, or overall experience provided by a business.
Turning things around is changing the direction of a situation from negative to positive.
To stand your ground means to hold firm to your position.

If something is damaged it has been broken in some way.
To handle something means to means to manage, deal with, or take care of it effectively.
A mix-up is a mistake or accident.
An oversight is when something important is accidentally missed or not noticed, leading to problems.
A refund is when someone receives money back after having paid for a product or service if they no longer want it or it was not satisfactory.
A replacement is something that takes the place of another thing. It replaces it.

In Australia, businesses must meet a set of basic rights when selling products or services.
Customers have rights under the law, and as a business you need to be careful when telling customers when they can return the goods or not.

To find out more visit the government websites like


(Note: This is not a word-for-word transcript)
SBS acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country and their connections and continuous care for the skies, lands, and waterways throughout Australia.
I’m Josipa and I’ve been wondering, have you been enjoying these lessons?
We hope so, because today we are talking about the exact opposite – people that are unhappy and dissatisfied. We’ll practise phrases you can use when we need to handle dissatisfied customers – that is, customers who are not happy for some reason.
Dealing with complaints raised by an unhappy customer is not always easy –so we’ve prepared a set of phrases that you can use, whether you are a small business owner or someone working in a larger company and dealing with customers.
Ok, so let’s join Allan. He’s been waiting for a delivery.
Allan is worried about the package he just received. The size is much smaller than he expected. As he unwraps the box, he notices that the plastic on the lid of the box was cracked. Disappointed, he calls the company on the number printed on the instruction manual that came with the parcel.

Claire

Indoor Urban Gardens. How can I help you?

Allan

Hi there, I just received an indoor herb garden that I ordered, but it arrived broken.

Claire

Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. I apologise for the inconvenience. Can you give me your order number and some details about the damage so that I can help you?

Allan

Sure, my order number is 62345. When I opened the package, I noticed that the plastic cover was cracked, and also, the garden I received was much smaller than the one I ordered. I wanted the larger one.

Claire

Oh, that’s no good at all. I do apologise for the condition of the garden you received. As for the size, let me have a look…it looks like there’s has been an oversight on our part. I’ll definitely look into this issue. And of course we’ll make it up to you. Would you like me to send you a replacement or would you prefer a refund?

Allan

I’d like a replacement, please.

Claire

Of course. I’ll process it immediately and we’ll send you send you the larger size indoor herb garden right away. I’ll make sure it’s packaged securely to make sure there isn’t any damage this time.
You know, I’m really impressed with how Claire dealt with that dissatisfied customer. I took a close look at their conversation, and I noticed that it provides a sort of roadmap that anyone could follow when they’re faced with a customer who’s not happy.
It’s like a step-by-step guide to turning things around, meaning making something bad or difficult get better.
So if you are turning things around, you are changing the direction of a situation from negative to positive.

Let’s hear again how Claire did that,

I apologise for the inconvenience.

Claire

First, Claire apologised. This is actually one of the simplest things to do, but also the most important. There are lots of ways to say sorry.

Claire then needed to find out exactly what went wrong. So, to find out more, she asked:

Can you give me your order number and some details about the damage?

Claire

Here, Claire asks for the order number so that she knows more about what was ordered when, and then she asks about the damage, that is, about in what way the garden was broken, and what is wrong with it now.

Or to give another example, you could say,

Could you give me some specifics so I can help you?

Claire

‘More specifics’ is just another way of asking for more details about the problem.
So, the first step is to start off nicely and apologise. The second step is to find out more about what went wrong. Now, what do you think the third step could be?

Yes, a useful third step is to take responsibility for what happened because the customer knows that you are looking after them. When Claire checked her computer and realised the company had made a mistake and sent the wrong size garden, she said,

It looks like there has been an oversight on our part.

Claire

An oversight is when something important is accidentally missed or not noticed, leading to some sort of mistake or problem.
The fourth and final step in the road map for dealing with whinging customers is to offer a solution.

Be careful! Whinging is an informal – way of saying ‘complaining’. It’s negative and a bit rude, so you would never want to use this word in front of the actual customer.

Would you like me to send you a replacement or would you prefer a refund?

Claire

A replacement here means he would like a new garden to replace the one he was sent.
A refund is when someone receives money back after having paid for a product or service if it was not satisfactory.
We often try to make the customer feel better by offering them a solution, but sometimes this is not possible.
Let’s say Allan provides cleaning services, and today he’s having a really bad day. He was supposed to clean an office, but his customer didn’t show up. Now, they are on the phone, complaining and demanding that Allan goes back.

Allan

There seems to be some sort of mix-up. The booking was confirmed. We’ve waited thirty minutes, and nobody opened the door. If you wish, we could make another booking?

Claire

Listen, Allan. It looks like I might have made a mistake, but I don’t want another booking. I need you to come straight away, or I’ll be in trouble.

Allan

I’m sorry. I wish I could help you, but it’s against our company policy. How about we make a new booking for tomorrow?

Sometimes, like Allan, you need to stand your ground – that is, hold firm to your position, especially in situations where the customer is dissatisfied because of something that is not your mistake.

There seems to be some sort of mix-up.

Allan

A mix-up is some kind of confusion or mistake. We use the phrase ‘seems to be,’ when we want to soften the impact of what we are saying, in this case, that our customer made a mistake.

Do you remember what Allan said when he stood his ground?

I’m sorry. I wish I could help you, but this is against our company policy.

Allan

This type of response makes it clear that unfortunately, you can’t do what they are asking because it goes against the company rules.
In Australia, businesses must meet a set of basic rights when selling products or services. Our guest today is Jocelyn Yem, Director of Operations at the NSW Small Business Commissioner.
Jocelyn, what kind of organisation is the NSW Small Business Commissioner?

Jocelyn

We are a NSW government agency that advocates on behalf of small businesses.

Josipa

Can you please tell us some key things that small businesses need to know about providing refunds and returns.

Jocelyn

There are some laws about whether a business needs to provide a refund or return and when they need to do that.
Customers have rights under the law, and as a business you need to be careful when telling customers when they can return the goods or not.
So, say for example, if a customer buys shoes from a shop, and when they get home, they decide that they don’t like them. So, they’ve changed their mind about them.
The customer is not necessarily entitled to a refund for what’s called a change-of-mind purchase, but if there’s something wrong with shoes, if they break the first time they wear them, then you are required to provide a refund or replacement.

Josipa

What are the benefits of being good at customer’s complaints?

Jocelyn

When you run a business, there’s always going to be customer complaints, unfortunately. So, it’s really important to have a process in place.
If you have those processes explained on your website, everyone will have more confidence that their issues are going to be managed properly.

for previews, updates and to provide feedback.
A big thank you to our educational consultant Professor Lynda Yates, and our guest Jocelyn Yem from the .

Paul Nicholson and Lily O’Sullivan voiced the characters of Allan and Claire.

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