Top 10 ways to deal with customer complaints

complaining angry customer

Jamie-Natalie Cross explains how to turn customer complaints into a winning opportunity for your business.

Whether you're a large company or small business, you’re likely to have to deal with a client complaint at some point. It’s not always a reflection on your business approach; if you’re juggling several clients at once the odds are that there will be at least one person who isn’t completely satisfied at any one time.
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While it's easy to play the blame game when things go wrong, if you want to keep the client the best thing is to remain professional and tackle problems quickly and methodically when dealing with customer complaints. Solving a problem effectively can also be a great opportunity for your business to create happy clients and perhaps even generate new referrals. 

Top tips

  1. Quick thinking: Once you receive a complaint, don’t leave it. Reply to the letter, email, phone call, blog post or tweet as soon as possible, no matter how outrageous you might think it is.
  2. Observe and take note: Try and be open-minded and understanding about the situation. Write down anything you feel is important and ask questions.
  3. Make an apology: Regardless of your opinion, offering some form of apology can help. While in some cases it may not be legally advisable to apologise, you can still say ‘I’m sorry you feel that way’, ‘I’m sorry that wasn’t our intention’, or ‘I am sorry for your inconvenience’. This shows your sympathy and may help to calm the situation.
  4. Be composed: In high stress situations it’s easy to become irritable, but if you allow this to happen you might say something you regret which could have repercussions for the business. If find yourself becoming irritated, suggest that you’ll call the client back and try to take some time out for yourself to calm down.
  5. Be positive: Try and take an optimistic approach to the problem and focus on what you can do to help rather than what you can’t do.
  6. Think of your business: Whilst you are dealing with a complaint, show genuine concern. This could help turn the situation into a positive outcome, helping with future business dealings and ultimately aiding your reputation as a company.
  7. Communicate regularly: Keep your client in the know if the problem cannot be solved straight away. They will only become irritated if they don’t know what’s happening, so stay in contact and explain how you’re tackling the problem.
  8. Own the problem: If the problem is yours, take responsibility for it solve it as best you can. If it’s not down to you, find out who is involved and make sure you delegate it properly so that all parties know who is responsible for correcting it. As the first point of contact, the client  or customer will be looking to you for answers, so make sure you address that straight away and don’t just leave them hanging on.
  9. Discover the reasons: As well as solving the problem in the here and now, it’s important to understand why the problem happened so it can be avoided in the future. Make a note of lessons learnt and see what you can do to change your processes to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
  10. Serious complaints: If you’ve tried to resolve the problem without success, it might be time to call in a third party such as a legal adviser who can offer more impartial advice and a new perspective on the problem.

Related articles:
Top 10 worst customer complaints
If the customer is king, service is queen: How to improve engagement
Dealing with stupid customer complaints
Why your business needs 81% more complaints
When customers criticise, how do you respond?


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‘I’m sorry you feel that way’

‘I’m sorry you feel that way’ 

Be really careful with that one. It's so well-known as an "apology without apologising", it has huge potential to make things worse. My bank said it to me the other day, and my instant, unthinking reaction was "yes, because you'd rather not be having to deal with my complaint". Making noises like you're going to sort the problem out is a whole bunch more important than making soothing noises that don't get anyone any further forward. 


ReelLifePhotos's picture

Dealing with complaints

Very good advice!  I would only add that your tone of voice is extremely important, so talking slowly - which will give you time to think and generate a calm atmosphere -  and lowering the pitch of you voice so you sound genuine (which hopefully you will be), while you try to listen more than speaking will all help the client feel that their complaint is being understood and given proper redress/attention.

xx Elaine - where art and emotions fuse. For the personal touch - invite us to join you...

JohnShenton's picture

Handling Customer Complaints

The best way to deal with ciutomer complaints in my opinion is to have a complaints policy as well as a process.

The policy should outline what position your business is adopting to clients that may complain and is necessary if employees are to take actions on your behalf - ie - the customer is always right {now a wise policy but one that does work for some business types}

The process should be simple and clear, one that can be described to an upset customer so that they know you will be taking them seriously and that they will get a follow up and a conclusion.

The fists action is acknowledgement - this is what the customer is asking for by complaining. This is an objective response to an emotional request.

Break the complain down - what happened - when did it happen , where and so on.

What was the end result that the customer felt they needed to complain about?

What does the customer want to happen? - this is the simplest and most important question

In most cases this can resolve the situation quickly and efficiently and cost effectively.

Here is the most important part - do not assume that you need to take an action the client does not want.

Once you have understood the problem either agree to fix it straight away or agree to go back with a resolution ofr and answer within a reasonable time frame - and agree this with them.

Now you must solve it and get back to them = thanking them for taking the time to point out where something has gone wrong - no need to apologise and thank you is much stronger.

Find a way to stay in touch with them as a valued client - say you have an offer for a discount or invitation for example - now you have tuned a negative into a positive

Make it easy for them and for you - you will both feel good about it.

John Shenton

Business Improvement Associates

Michelle Purse's picture

Turning complaints into compliments

Great article!

I've had the experience that 'most' people are usually very reasonable once they are confident that their complaint is being taken seriously and that one person has taken responsibility to deal with it rather than pass it around. Keeping the customer informed, even if it's to say the situation is not yet resolved but they have not yet been forgotten about, can be very valuable in earning their trust that it will get dealt with.

Handled well, a customer complaint is an opportunity to win a customer for life. Some customers don't bother complaining, they just take their business elsewhere. There is sadly no opportunity to turn those situations around.


David Evans's picture

dealing with customer complaints

Great post. Dealing with customer complaints is something that all companies will have to deal with at some point. Dealing with customer complaints can be tricky but there are some tips that can be taken to make it easier such as the ones in the list. It is importan to ask the right questions, listen and establish a clear and appropriate course of action. Do not let emotions get in the way of performing your tasks objectively.


-- Dave Evans Commercial Director at accessplanit Specialist in learning management system and training administration software.

rayanlee's picture

Consumer Help - Fight For Your Rights

Its really important to have a good customer relationship team to grow your business. If you're customers are happy then surely you'll earn more. Even they will promote you, its one of the best marketing idea without spending too much money. Just keep your eye on the customer satisfaction.iRateiSlate- Fight For Your Rights

how to handle customer complaints like a pro

The 3 As of handling customer complaints:

Ask -Provide customers with the opportunity to complain, give them your full attention, listen completely and ask. Go in futher details with key questions like „What else?“

Agree - Nobody complains without reason. No matter how absurd the complaint might be, always act calm. Try to look at the issue from your customer's perspective. Never argue or disagree! 

Apologize - Resolve the problem and apologize politely. Accept the mistake and thank the customer for bringing the complaint to your attention. Compensate your client with adequate recoupment.

Learn more: How to handle customer complaints.



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