How to Handle Customer Complaints

It’s more important to know how to handle customer complaints now than ever, since they are often online, for all the world to see!

That is a very different scenario than the person who calls screaming on the phone or even the person who comes into the store ranting in front of a few other customers.

A bad online review has the potential to be seen by gazillions of potential customers.

But it’s important to remember, that those gazillions will ALSO see how you handle the situation.  If you do it right, you can turn a bad situation into a boon for your business.

Any business with any measure of success will run into “the” customer.

So if you want success as a business owner, you will no doubt find yourself with a customer whose complaint sets off all your alarm bells, tugs at all the wrong emotions, and causes you to feel defensive.

Remember what mama told you?  Stop.  Take a deep breath.  Count to ten and then …

Be grateful for that customer!  In reality, you should embrace your vocal customers because they can provide you with so much information.

One Vocal Customer

It used to be that one unhappy customer who took the time to write and complain equaled 20 unhappy customers who never said anything to you, but complained to everyone else who would listen.  They were a siren alerting you to a problem.

Now, online, that has the potential to be gazillions!  (I love the word!)  So what should you do when an unhappy customer complains on line or is rude or insulting?

Actually you should handle it online the same as off!  But back to the grateful part.  First you should …

Say Thanks!

Say what again now?!

Thank Them!  When someone sends you a complaint or a bad review online, the best thing to do is try to read through it without paying attention to trigger words.  Only pay attention to the meat of the complaint.

Then, send them a thank you for the complaint. In your thank you, only address the real issues and not the tone of the complaint. That way you can open the lines of communication in a way that may resolve the issue.

Keep Your Cool

It may be difficult, but you have to stay calm even under the most aggressive punishment from a customer.  It’s true that some complaints should follow an immediate return of money and distance from the person.

But most can be resolved in a better way,  IF you keep your cool and acknowledge the things that are wrong and make good on them.  Maybe this means asking for a second chance?  A free dinner at a later date?  A free item from the store? Credit not only for the problem item but a gift card for another item?

How you would make good would depend on your situation and your product but there is always a way.

Conflict Isn’t Always Bad

We’ve been trained  to avoid conflict. But all conflict isn’t bad. Often something really great comes out of the conflict. If there is a way you can improve your offering based on the complaint of the vocal customer, then you should do it!

Improving the service for that customer will improve service for all your customers.  It will make a better you and a better product and a better company!

Look for the Positive

When you see the complaint or hear it from your customer, the best thing you can do is look for the positive. I don’t mean Pollyanna, sunny-side-of-the-street stuff. I mean answers!

Most customers will tell you how you can resolve the issue –  if you listen!

Give Them What They Want

If you can do it and it won’t break the bank, the best thing you can do with a truly vocal customer is to give them what they want!  It can potentially turn an angry customer into a happy customer.  Happy customers tell other people.  Even if you take a loss, do it.

You already know that this person is vocal.  Turning the situation around, the person might continue to be vocal, only on your behalf this time.

Focus on Customer Experience

Turning your focus to customer experience is imperative.  How does the customer feel during every stage of the buying process?  When using your technology?  When ultimately using your product?

Survey customers to find out and prevent problems when possible.  Ask complainers to explain what went wrong and how they would like to see it fixed.  Tell them that this is valuable and that you will take this into consideration as you make changes for the better.

All Publicity is Good Publicity

Don’t believe it!  It is publicity alright but if it’s not good, it can spread exponentially. A defensive reaction tends to bring more publicity— negative publicity. Always try to resolve the situation happily and include that so that can spread!

Online Customer Service

An important consideration is to make sure that your staff is trained and that the people handling customer service online are really customer service!

We all know that when we are insulted or angry, we might react with a knee-jerk reaction and regret it later. Customer service folks are professionals and are trained (and if that’s just you and DIY customer service, get yourself trained!)  to keep cool and deal with complaints.

The IT guy and the social media manager and the part-time admin assistant working on your blog are not trained so either train them or get your customer service people to deal with the problems that come in online.

Time Warp

You need a thoughtful positive and QUICK response.  Customer service should always be taken care of quickly but remember,  everything is multiplied online.  That includes time!

The number of viewers, of potential customers seeing one complaint and how it is handled is enormous.  Time online is multiplied as well.  A complaint left unanswered for a day quickly morphs into a complete lack of customer service.

I’m not a big fan of the emails that say “your message has been received and someone will get back to you within 24 hours” because I am like everyone else and I want it done right now!  But, at least I know that it did not go out into a black hole.  It has been acknowledged.

Find a way, even if it is the auto-response to let people know that you are dealing with their problem and will contact them shortly and then do it!

Offline Response

If possible, try to find the person behind the complaint, the email, bad message or review and contact them offline.  Do you have a phone number or email?  Maybe FB or Twitter where you can send a direct message and ask to speak?

It’s always better to speak if possible where people can hear your voice and intonation.

Resolve the problem offline, hopefully leaving the critic more than satisfied but overjoyed! What is the catch-term now?  Bliss!  Create customer bliss out of the complaint!

Ask them to go back and comment to their complaint or negative review and say how it was resolved not only to their satisfaction but even more!  Ask them to say how happy they are with the customer service they received.

 Stop Online Complaints Before They Happen

Most people who have a complaint with a product or service want it resolved.   Like … Now. If your website makes it easy for customers to reach you, they can call or email and get a timely response.  They are less likely to go online to TripAdvisor or Yelp to complain when they feel the situation is being addressed.

Make sure there are plenty of ways to get in touch with you on every page of your site.  On any email that you send, provide an easy way to respond!  Just think how refreshing that will be compared to the emails that not only come from an email that one can’t respond to but then include a line that the end that says “please do not reply to this …”

I sent my husband an email today and it was returned by one of those bots that told me that my “email appears to be spam and has been reported as spam and has not been delivered.”  Well!  Thank you very much!  So I will probably never be able to email my husband again,  because there was not way to respond to any human.

Make it easy for customers to get in touch with you, with a real human if possible.

And a human with the authority to take care of the problem and customers will be less likely to go online and rant.  I want to stress the human part, the immediacy part and the authority part!  I’ve been on calls where the person on the other end could commiserate but do nothing to help me.  That is more frustrating than getting no one at all!

Be Known for Your Service

Your most vocal customers, no matter whether they send you bad news or not, are the people who you need to listen to. Be thankful for customers who will truly tell you what they think; they can be a wealth of information.

Make them happy and keeping the rest of your customers will be a breeze! Making them happy online, might even bring you more customers!

Now get out there and find a few gazillion!

For more insights on customer service, building loyalty and importance of goodwill, check out:  Why You Need to Bring Service Back to Your Business.

Patt Timlin is a marketing expert set on sharing her expertise with other online marketers to help them achieve the dream of working online. She is secretly pleased with the surge in content marketing as revenge of the English majors! Entrepreneur, blogger, guide, helper – Patt loves the online world and loves to share it!

Patt is the author of:


Spot4connectionsblog [focus beginners online]

Work At Home Product Guide 

Patt Timlin Online 

BloggerPatt! [just for the fun of it!]

Please reach out on Facebook at Spot4connections on Facebook



About the Author Patt Timlin

Patt Timlin is a marketing expert set on sharing her expertise with other online marketers to help them achieve the dream of working online. She is secretly pleased with the surge in content marketing as revenge of the English majors! Entrepreneur, blogger, guide, helper - Patt loves the online world and love to share it!