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Customer handling

Turning complaints into positives

“I would like to register…a…complaint” – John Cleese

The words everyone working in a business, retail, or any customer-facing environment dreads. The reality is that if you have customers, you are likely to have the occasional complaint about a product or service you provide. Many people think of customer complaints as an annoying headache to be avoided at all costs, and as much as they would like to crawl into their happy space and hope they go away, they never do. They may be thinking about what benefit they would derive by handling the complaint – headache gone, customer is out of my face, and I can get back to what I was doing.

This may have an immediate effect but what about the long term?

What would happen if customers who had a negative experience with your organisation went away and did not complain at all?

The statisticians would tell us that approximately 60% would go elsewhere and never come back. A similar percentage would tell their family and friends who, in turn, would tell their family and friends. In the era of social media, this can escalate quite quickly to the point where news of their poor experience could go viral, and your business’s reputation would go south at a similar speed.

But what if you took the opposite approach and embraced the benefits of customer complaints?

Pardon? Essentially, a customer complaint is a form of feedback. Valuable feedback which could produce positive results for your business. When a customer takes the time to complain, they are highlighting a problem with your business, e.g., a product, staff-member, or your systems. When you hear directly from the customer you can investigate the issue and implement the necessary improvements, so the issue doesn’t raise its head again in the future.

It's the customers who don’t complain who are the problem. The researchers will tell you that for every one customer who complains, 25 just don’t bother. And guess what? They’re the ones who go and tell the world about their poor experience with you.

So really, a customer complaint is an opportunity for improvement which needs to be embraced.

Handling complaints quickly and effectively can turn those complainants into loyal customers and potentially, advocates for your brand. It costs less to keep the customers you have than to find new ones. Therefore, better complaint handing processes equal better profits.

The following steps will help you to develop an effective complaint handing strategy which will lead to higher levels of customer loyalty, enhance your business’s reputation, and hopefully increase your profits.


Listen to what the customer is saying

The customer has felt strongly enough to approach you, so listen to what they have to say and ask questions. You need to understand the problem to be able to solve it.

Empathise with the customer

Look at things from their point of view. Empathise with their situation.

Empathy statements are good, for example, “I understand how frustrating that must have been”.

Thank them for bringing this to your attention

Make them feel valued by offering a genuine thank-you. They could have just walked away and told others about their experience.

Solve the problem

Find and agree on a mutually agreeable solution to their problem. They will be more accepting if they have been part of the solution.

Deliver on your promise

Make sure you do what you said you would do as quickly as possible. Don’t set yourself an unrealistic time frame for resolution

Follow up with the customer

Set a reminder to follow up with the customer to ensure they are satisfied and have no lingering, unresolved issues. This could be a phone call, an email, or perhaps a survey.

And to finish, a quote from Richard Branson,

“Listen to the customer’s complaint and act fast”


Paul Richards