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How to Handle Customer Complaints

See also:Customer Service Skills

Customer complaints are inevitable, no matter how streamlined your business. They must always be acknowledged and dealt with effectively. By ignoring or dismissing complaints, you are effectively telling the customer that you don’t value their opinions.

Many business owners see complaint management as a time-consuming and frustrating process. However, by developing an efficient system, complaints can be resolved quickly and easily.


Here is a step-by-step guide to dealing with dis-satisfied customers.

Taking the Complaint

  • When a customer first makes a complaint, take a step back. It can be difficult to remain impassive in the face of criticism, but an emotional response will only serve to irritate the customer further.   
  • Give the customer your full attention and listen to the whole problem before responding. Put yourself in their shoes - if you had a problem, you would want someone to listen to you. Appearing disinterested, or attempting to argue back, will only exacerbate the situation.
  • Don’t jump the gun. You might deal with complaints on a regular basis, and may well have handled a similar situation before. However, for the customer, their complaint is unique to them. Treat them as an important individual by listening to their problem in full.  
  • Try to understand. In the face of a complaint, it’s easy to be defensive - particularly if you don’t believe you’re at fault. However, you have to put yourself in the customer’s shoes. If you were on the receiving end of their experience, would you personally be satisfied?
  • Always use your initiative when dealing with complaints. If the blame lies with one particular member of staff, it is often best to remove the customer from their presence. This can defuse tension and emotion, and help the customer to re-evaluate their anger.
  • However, never pass the customer around from person to person. Each complaint should ideally be handled by one staff member. Therefore, you should always ensure that the person assigned to the case has the authority to deal with the situation.

Finding a Solution

  • Once the customer has aired their grievance, you should immediately give a sincere apology. Any number of factors could have contributed to the issue, and you might not be at fault. However, you need to take responsibility for the problem. Sometimes, an apology is all it takes to placate an angry customer.
  • Customers never want to hear excuses. However, you are fully entitled to briefly explain why they didn’t receive the standard of service they expected. This should take place after you’ve listened to their complaint and made an apology.
  • Sometimes, a complaint will be followed by a request for compensation - typically a refund or a voucher. However, customers often haven’t planned beyond making the initial complaint. In these cases, ask the customer for their desired outcome. This makes them feel both involved and valued.

Every business should have a contingency plan in place for customer complaints.


Create something you can quickly and easily offer as a consolatory gesture, such as money-off vouchers or a free product.


Useful Tips for Dealing with Complaints

  • Try to remain calm when dealing with a complaint - even if the customer becomes irate or confrontational.

    Your ultimate aim is to turn their negative experience into a positive one, but arguing back will only make the situation worse.

  • Complaints should always be resolved as quickly as possible.

    The aim is to make the customer feel as though their problem is being treated as a priority, without being rushed.

  • Keep comprehensive records of all customer complaints, from the initial problem to the eventual solution.

    You can then periodically assess these records, identifying any common complaints, and taking steps to improve company processes.

  • All customer-facing staff members should be trained to deal with complaints.

    If possible, give your employees some authority when it comes to issuing refunds or other consolatory gestures. Forcing the customer to wait for a manager can make a bad situation worse.


Businesses live or die by their reputations

Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to prevent poor customer experiences. However, by handling any complaints quickly and effectively, it’s possible to salvage negative situations. 

About the Author


This article was written by Matt Everard of Barrington Freight, a logistics company based in the UK.

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