How You Should Handle a Customer Complaint

Angry customer complaining to chef in restaurant
••• Blend Images/Ronnie Kaufman/Larry Hirshowitz/Getty Images

It's hard to hear that someone is unhappy with your products, services, shopping experience, staff, or customer service practices, especially when you work so hard to make everything so right. But a customer complaint is the perfect opportunity to delve into the mind of your target audience and uncover areas for improvement. Here are five ways you can turn a customer complaint into a better experience for your customers, an opportunity to improve your business and a worthwhile learning experience for you.

Address the Problem Immediately

If you know a customer is unhappy, don’t ignore it. Ask what is causing the unhappiness and what you can do to fix the situation. The longer you wait to bring it up, the worse it can get. No one wants to have this uncomfortable conversation, but not only will addressing the issue put you on the path to resolution but your willingness to face it head-on will tell your customers that you care about their business and ultimately their satisfaction.

Ask the Right Questions

You can't go about fixing a negative situation until you have a full and accurate picture of what went wrong for the customer. Ask a lot of questions to get a handle on the customer's expectations and where your business fell short. Asking the right questions and listening to the customer will get you the right answers so you can handle the complaint effectively.

It's a good idea to ask your customers for feedback on a regular basis, even when there is not a problem. The wealth of information you can gather from customer insight can be invaluable, so consider using an ongoing feedback process to head off complaints before they happen.

Offer a Do-Over

If it’s your product that the customer is unhappy with, give him or her a new one at no charge to see if that fixes the problem. If the customer is unhappy with a specific service, revisit the deliverables and see if there is a way you can improve on them to be more in line with what the customer wants. 

If the customer is unhappy with sub-par staff communication or a negative customer service experience, apologize for the situation and loop in the third person so he or she can improve on the less-than-stellar service. 

Adjust the Communication Process

Everyone communicates differently, and it can be difficult to resolve a situation that if there is no meeting of the minds. If the problem stems from miscommunication, try a new format. If you have been handling everything via e-mail, schedule a phone call to see if you can get things cleared up voice-to-voice. After the call, you can summarize the conversation and send the information to the customer in an e-mail. This will give you an extra opportunity to make sure you’re both on the same page.

Know How to Handle Public Complaints

Many customer service conversations are happening through social media these days. When it comes to unhappy customers airing their grievances through a social platform, there are two no-no's to avoid. First, never delete the complaint from your social profile. That will not only make the customer feel ignored and fuel more public bashing that can hurt your brand, but it will also send the message to all of your customers that you just don't care. 

Second, don't get into a back-and-forth conversation with an irate customer in a public forum. Quickly apologize and tell the unhappy customer publicly that you want to fix the situation for him or her, then move the conversation off-line to phone or email. Hopefully, you will be able to resolve the situation, and the unhappy customer will go public with how happy they are now.

Customer complaints can be difficult to handle, but there is a silver lining. A customer who complains is one who wants to continue to buy from you. He or she is simply giving you the clues you need to make a positive change in your business. Embrace it and use the insight to improve the experience for every one of your customers.