8 Steps For Dealing With Customer Complaints

Complaints from your customers are inevitable and are a fact of business life. And while they can be hard to deal with, it makes sense to plan for the inevitable and try to minimize the impacts on your business.

If you can make sure that more of those people that are unhappy come back to your business you will be miles ahead of most of your competitors.


Own the issue

I had a recent problem with a car rental and rather than listen, every level of staff that I interacted with wanted to pass the issue to another person or department. That pass the buck attitude turned out to reflect the general attitude of the company and convinced me in the end that they just didn’t care.

We live in a commercial culture where cost cutting and low service levels are the norm. Customer service departments have not only been cut back but their authority has often been limited. Own the issue and the customer will take note.


Respond quickly to all complaints. Think minutes or hours, not days.

People want to be heard and nothing shows you are listening more than a fast response. It took an airline almost a week to get back to me. In that week, it seemed to me that I had wasted my time in filling out the form and I might as well not have wasted my time.

Responding quickly sends all the right signals to your customer that you do care and you did hear.


Don’t just pretend to listen, hear the customer.

People want to be respected and treated fairly. Part of that is actively listening to them and being sure that you hear them out.

It’s hard but you need to be able to listen carefully and acknowledge your customer’s pain and their complaint in a sincere way. When I did finally hear back from the airline, the response was written in a way that seemed so formulaic and so canned that it could have been written by an untrained bot. Take the time to ask questions and better understand exactly what went wrong.

In a recent survey where I asked customers what they expected when they took a complaint to a local merchant they noted: I expect courtesy and active listening to what I am saying. I expect respect. To know that I have been heard. Willingness to listen.


Explain what went wrong to the customer.

All too often companies jump right from “listening” to “resolving”. The customer deserves an explanation that is forthright and honest. I recognize that sometimes it’s not possible to provide the complete, unvarnished tale of events that caused the problem but often a good explanation is all the customer is really looking for.

For my bad experience flying, an explanation might have helped. Why did the airline take the pilots for my flight and put them on another flight? The airline isn’t saying but they should have. Maybe there was a good reason I was stranded at the gate but if there was I was left wondering despite asking several times.


Occasionally put the customer (or yourself) in timeout.

These conversations can be hard and sometimes these conversations go south. If the customer remains angry, capture their info and call them back. Give them a short time frame. Trying to resolve a problem with an angry person will be far too difficult. Some are angry and calm down and others remain out of control.

You might find that it is you that gets angry and in doing so might make the problem worse. Take a moment to excuse yourself and if you can’t find the needed composure ask your team for reinforcements.


Act to resolve the situation.

Try to come up with a solution that not just fixes what went wrong but actually leaves the customer as whole as can be or even more so if that is even possible.

It costs a lot to replace a customer and it costs even more in lost business if their bad review is seen by hundreds or even thousands of readers.

Sometimes it is just impossible to actually resolve the situation. Imagine that you are a local agent for a national insurance firm and you get a complaint about pricing. There is no real resolution. In that situation move from an effort to resolve to advocacy on their behalf.

An honest complaint is worth its weight in gold and the customer has already paid in suffering. I understand that sometimes customers can be silly and or even be malicious but erring on the side of generosity in most situations, even in the face of unreasonable behavior, will serve you well in the long run.


Reward them for their effort.

The customer that took the time to complain not only didn’t get to experience your product or service fully, they wasted time doing so and spent additional time returning to your place of business.

While it may have been hard for them, they reached out in an effort to resolve the situation. Recognize their contribution and help ease the pain with a gift, gift certificate or special consideration.


Follow up with the customer and ask how you did with their complaints.

When it’s all over, ask one more time for feedback. It’s just as important to refine you complaint process as it is to refine your sales process.

At GetFiveStars (www.getfivestars.com) we think that it’s better to earn reviews by being a great business than ask for them and cross your fingers. To be the best business you can be, you need to be ready and willing to encourage complaints.


Mike Blumenthal is a co-founder of GetGiveStars, a developer of customer service platform software (www.getfivestars.com). This blog originally appeared on the company’s website. It was reprinted with permission.

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