Small Business
Jun 7, 2024

How To Handle A Customer Complaint [11 Effective Ways]

Handling an angry customer can be uncomfortable—especially when learning how to run a business.

But, since occasional negative feedback is inevitable, the best solution is to master proven strategies for winning back upset customers.

Check out how to handle a customer complaint in a way that fosters satisfaction and loyalty below.

What Is a Customer Complaint?

Think of customer complaints as feedback.

They highlight the areas where the consumer feels the business has fallen short of meeting their expectations.

With this perspective, complaints can serve as valuable insights into improving your products, services, internal processes, and overall business strategy.

Common Types of Complainers

Sometimes, what a customer complains about might not seem like a big deal.

You may even consider some complaints unrealistic. But it all comes down to personality types, which affect consumer behavior.

Here are the common types of complainers you’re likely to encounter.

  • Legitimately Wronged: Such a customer has valid and evident reasons for expressing their dissatisfaction.
  • Big Spenders: They are always ready to pay a premium for products or services but also expect special or high-level treatment.
  • The Pessimist: This is often a customer who’s having a bad day and will be highly irritable.
  • Trolls: Some people, who aren’t even real customers, will troll any brand on social media for selfish reasons.

You can address issues satisfactorily if you understand the type of customer you are dealing with.

The Value of Customer Complaints

Not all consumers complain, but 91% of the unhappy customers who don’t complain directly to you switch to competitors.

That makes the consumers who express their dissatisfaction valuable, as they’ll help you discover and solve problems before you lose more customers and money.

Consider these statistics about a dissatisfied customer:

  • 73% of unhappy customers will switch to a competitor after repeated negative experiences.
  • It takes only one negative experience for more than half of consumers to change loyalty.
  • One angry customer will share their negative experience with a brand with 15 or more people.
  • Three out of four customers claim a poor experience with a brand can spoil their entire day.

If you show consumers that you care about their concerns, you can increase customer satisfaction and retention.

Remember, getting new customers is more expensive than retaining the existing ones.

In fact, improving customer retention rate by 5% increases profit by 25% or more.

Handling complaints professionally can also help a business maintain a good reputation, earn trust, and turn dissatisfied ones into loyal customers.

Effective Strategies for Handling Customer Complaints

Customer complaint resolution aims to turn an unhappy customer into a brand loyalist.

That’s achievable if the customer feels you care about their complaints and are willing to improve.

Here are the tips and strategies you should consider when handling customer complaints.

Develop a Complaints Handling Policy

Do you have a clear company policy for handling a customer’s complaints? If not, you should create one and put it on the company’s website.

A complaint handling policy outlines the procedure for acknowledging, investigating, and resolving customer issues.

It tells customers how to submit complaints and assures them their needs are a top concern.

Provide Easily Accessible Support Options

Always make it easy for customers to contact you. Provide multiple support options like phone, email, live chat, and social media.

The last thing unhappy customers want is the hassle of trying to get their issues solved. It only creates more frustration.

You can also provide self-service options for easier problem resolutions.

Listen to the Complaint

Pay careful attention to the customers’ concerns. Allow them to vent and express their issues fully without interruption, and don’t dismiss their concerns.

The goal of listening is to understand the customer’s needs. That’s the only way to find a viable solution that works for both parties.

Stay Calm and Avoid Escalation

It’s hard to stay calm when confronted by an angry or distressed customer, especially when you consider the reason trivial.

Most customer service reps become stressed and defensive but don’t let emotions get in the way.

Maintaining a calm demeanor and voice makes you more likely to move the conversation forward instead of escalating the tension.

Get All the Facts

Once the customer has vented without interruption, it’s time to get to the root cause. Did the business overpromise and under-deliver?

Is it a problem with third-party partners like shipping companies? Get to the bottom of the issue.

Ask clarifying questions to understand the details and avoid misunderstandings.

You can also reiterate to ensure you’re not making assumptions. Make the customer feel genuinely understood. It’ll also help you in finding ways to resolve the issue.

Acknowledge the Customer’s Complaint

Acknowledging customers’ complaints doesn’t mean agreement or taking blame. Instead, it shows you understand and respect perspective.

You should also thank them for voicing their concerns to help the business serve them better.

Show empathy, validate their feelings, and make them feel heard and understood.

You can also address them by name when thanking them to personalize the message.

Respond Promptly or Try First-Call Resolution

Aim for quick responses, within five minutes if possible.

One study by Harvard Business Review reveals that prompt responses to customer complaints increase their willingness to pay more in the future.

And that’s true even when the customer’s complaint isn’t resolved.

This shows that a well-thought, quick response showing you acknowledge the complaint and are looking into it will pay off.

Offer a Solution or Explain a Plan of Action

Solutions aren’t one size fits all.

If you can’t resolve the issue immediately, let the customer know when you expect to have a resolution.

Set clear expectations about whether they’ll hear back from you and when.

If they’ll hear from you later, let them know why that’s important or what you’ll be doing in the meantime.

For instance, you could contact the right department to understand what went wrong.

If you can’t offer a solution for any reason, you can acknowledge their frustration and let them know you’re taking action based on their feedback.

Document and Categorize the Response

Record and categorize all customer complaints for future reference. When you track customer complaints and analyze them, you can identify flaws, issues, and trends.

You can then use this information to manage customer expectations, improve the business, and update the complaint handling policy.

Follow Up

Following up with a customer after issue resolution is crucial. It shows their concerns are a top priority and reinforces a caring attitude towards customer satisfaction.

You can reiterate the apology during the follow-up to show continued acknowledgment of the customer’s feelings.

Next, confirm that the customer’s needs have been addressed thoroughly and apologize for the business’s limitations in meeting their expectations.

You can also seek feedback on the resolution process to gauge the effectiveness of your customer support.

Encourage them to communicate anytime there’s a concern.

If the customer is happy at this stage, they’re more likely to come back and can even recommend the business to others.

Offer a Kind Post-Complaint Gesture

Do you want to exceed the customer’s expectations?

Send them a thank you note, offer them a discount, or make any other gesture that makes them feel valued.

Common Customer Complaints (And How to Handle Them)

Here are some of the most common customer complaints that almost every type of business can expect.

Long Wait Times  

Customers often complain about waiting too long for customer service, both on the phone and in person.

They may also complain about waiting too long for products to be delivered.

Set the right expectations for product and service delivery.

If the business has customer service representatives, ensure they’re enough to handle the customer base.

As you work on that, ensure the reps apologize for the long wait periods.

Product or Service Quality Issues

This includes complaints about products that are defective, broken, or don’t meet the customer’s expectations.

It can also include complaints about services that aren’t provided to a satisfactory standard.

This could result from misleading advertising where customers mention the ads don’t accurately represent the product or service.

The solution to this complaint relies on specific situations.

You must understand the root cause, consult the company’s policy, and think critically to determine the best action.

Poor Customer Service

Is the support team rude, unhelpful, or unknowledgeable about the products/services?

Ensure whoever is responsible for responding to clients has all the necessary information.

They should also have emotional intelligence and a desire to serve customers’ needs.

Unavailable or Out-of-Stock Products

Customers often feel disappointed, unconvinced, and cheated when they order a product that’s out of stock.

This can lead to negative feedback, lost sales, and damaged relationships.

You can avoid and mitigate this complaint by accurately tracking inventory levels, clearly displaying product availability, and offering back-order options.

Making Customers Repeat Their Problems

Customers feel frustrated when they have to repeat the issue to multiple customer service representatives.

It often happens when they’re transferred to various departments to resolve their issue.

To avoid this problem, you can route calls to appropriate departments, give customer service representatives access to all needed information, and train them to handle common issues.

Delayed Resolution

When a customer doesn’t get a resolution in the first call, they may have to call back multiple times, explain the issue again each time, and wait on hold for long periods. This can lead to customer dissatisfaction and churn.

Do your best to resolve issues within or after the call, especially if the customer has time-sensitive needs. If it’s impossible, ask to politely follow up and show the customer why that process is more effective in getting a faster resolution. You can also add a knowledge base to help customers find solutions to common issues independently.

Lack of Follow Up

Some cases can’t be solved in the first call. If you don’t set clear response times, the customer might feel like they’re not heard or valued.

Let them know when you expect to have a solution. Ask if the proposed follow-up timelines work for them. If not, establish what will work for you and them. You should also follow up to ensure their issue has been resolved satisfactorily.

Similar Resources to Check Out

Here are some other great articles that can help you run your business successfully:

Conclusion: How to Handle a Customer Complaint

Knowing how to handle customer complaints is a skill that can make or break a business. You can retain customers and turn them into advocates by acknowledging, understanding, and effectively resolving complaints.

Remember, a customer-centric business approach isn’t just about addressing complaints. It’s about creating an environment where customers feel heard, valued, and satisfied.