22 August, 2017

Seven tips to handle customer complaints

If you’ve taken the brave step of getting your product or service out there, you’re probably starting to see how people respond to your product. Hopefully the majority are positive, but on the odd occasion you might experience customers who respond negatively during or after their purchase. It’s easy to worry about this, particularly as some customers can seem quite aggressive at times (sometimes even when they don’t mean to be) and it can feel like quite a personal attack. This is understandable though, if you’ve created a product or have a service you offer, it’s natural that part of “you” is invested in that thing, so a complaint can feel very personal. But don’t worry we’ve all been there. Take a moment to realise that even though it feels personal it rarely is.

Secondly, a customer complaint is an extraordinary opportunity to take what seems like a negative situation and turn it into an opportunity to surprise & delight the customer. And the best place to start with this is to simply listen to what’s being said. It can take quite a bit of doing not to put up your defences. But if you come to the problem with a desire to help, you stand a real chance of helping your customer. You’ll also improve your service, all while giving the person in question an opportunity to tell their friends and/or colleagues how well you dealt with them. It really can end up as a win/win!

So here are our seven tips to handling customer complaints:

Begin by listening

There’s no need to be defensive, instead begin by listening and acknowledging their concerns. Even if you think they may be flat-out wrong, it’s still important to validate the person’s right to express their opinion and not simply dismiss them. The chances are that in amongst their upset there is something that needs your attention.

Respond promptly 

There’s not much more infuriating than being ignored, we all want to know we’ve been heard and are listened to. And the thing is, that even if you don’t realise that someone is trying to tell you something about your business, if they don’t get a prompt response from you, they very often presume you are ignoring them. So do everything you can to to be alert to when issues are raised. Remember, you might have multiple channels that customers try and contact you on (for instance, email, telephone, social media channels, website chat window) so these need monitoring. 

Keep the customer informed

There’s probably a second step after feeling ignored that’s just as infuriating. Perhaps you’ve even felt it yourself… Once your issue has been acknowledged you want to know how progress is going. Customers hate being left in the dark with an undefined time frame for resolution. But note the important distinction, they rarely need you to fix the problem immediately (although if you can it’s a good idea) but this is more about simply keeping a customer up to date with regular feedback so they get a sense of that you are taking care of their needs. Even if your original timeframes change, it’s amazing how far a simple update with an apology for the delay can go.

Know the customer isn’t always right (and that’s okay)

Sometimes a customer is genuinely wrong (intentionally or not) but that still doesn’t mean we need to be defensive. We can still be friendly and as helpful as possible and we can always treat our customers with genuine care, respect and attention, regardless of how they talk to us and whether or not it’s them or us in the wrong. This kind of consistency will really set you apart, particularly if you are able to stay calm and meet your customers anxiety with compassion, even if they are in the wrong.

Do keep an eye out to distinguish between a genuine complaint and someone who likes to cause trouble though. On very rare occasions you might have to deal with someone like this. And as we said above, there is still no need to reciprocate this negative behaviour but you may well need to consider this type of person’s place as a customer. At the end of the day if they use up your or your staff’s time in a negative way and are unwilling to listen to reason it is ok for you to let them know they need to reconsider how they are behaving or whether or not they should remain a customer.

Create a list of complaints so you can see a pattern

Hopefully you won’t be getting too many complaints but when you do it’s a really good idea to keep a log of the issues raised. This will help you see your progress as you solve issues but also it will help you build a picture of where the issues might reoccur or what issue s seem to cause most problems.

We often use Trello for managing a backlog of issues or bugs in our software or systems. It’s a great project management tool and completely free, so we would strongly recommend checking it out.

Also worth noting, if you do get repeated complaints about one specific issue, it might be that you’ve not figured out how to solve it. Or maybe there’s an issue with your customer service itself? If something in that area is repeatedly flagged up, it should help you pinpoint where you can provide additional training to your staff or perhaps rewrite how you do certain processes. Whatever it is, you’re more likely to see it over time if you keep a log.

Use a tool to manage issues

You might have multiple incoming channels that need monitoring to support customer issues. Don’t forget, if you’ve got multiple social media channels, sometimes a customer might try to contact you via any of those alternate channels. You’ll need to make sure those are monitored at some point each day so that an issue is always picked up within a 24hr period. 

This can be a bit tricky and we would recommend if at all possible to keep it to email support and live-chat on your website. We use a mixture of Drift for chat and Groove for email support. They both make ticketing really easy so that different team members can view progress and step into the support role when it’s their turn. It also means you have a historical log if you need to go back to anything.

Depending on what stage you are at you could keep it quite simple and just go with email support only. Whatever you choose, just remember to keep the most important rule, which is acknowledging a customer’s issue ASAP. Typically this should be same day and depending on your resources and business type, either within an hour or even instantly if you have a particularly time sensitive product or service. And don’t forget, if you’re using live chat on your website, very often customers will expect almost instant responses, so make sure you choose your channels based on the people resources you have available. If it’s only you at this stage, and you have work to do on your product, offering instant live support might be really difficult for you to support.

Give the quiet ones a chance

It’s really important to understand that a lot of people don’t like complaining and will avoid it even when they’re not feeling particularly happy. You might even recognise this in yourself? And very often you’ll also find that the majority of people who are satisfied with what you do or have provided, don’t say anything either. These kinds of people really need your help to bring them out of their shell. Think about ways you can engage with your customers in an ongoing way so that when you have built up a good rapport they will feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts.


When you have someone who genuinely feels like something is not up to scratch, there is an amazing opportunity for you to learn about your customer, to learn how to improve your service or product AND (if done right) turn that person who has grown doubtful into someone who becomes a fan!

Think about the last time you had a problem with something you bought or a service you paid for. If you raised an issue with their support team, did they talk to you defensively and question your intelligence or accuracy, or did they take ownership and immediately seek to fix the problem? We all know what feels good and how we would like to be treated, so let that be part of your guiding light. What would make your day if someone was handling your complaint or concern?

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