How to Handle Complaints and Keep Your Customers

Let’s face it: Customers complain all the time. When a delivery arrives late, a product falls short of its promise, or a service is perceived as inefficient, patrons often make sure the “offending” business knows about it.

And that’s the good news, because at least they’re giving you a chance to make things right. In worst-case scenarios, disappointed customers never tell you what went wrong, yet they talk to friends, family, or colleagues about their “horrible experience,” which can really hurt your business.

Savvy small-business owners encourage feedback. However, keep in mind that how you — and your employees — respond to complaints will speak volumes about your commitment to customers (and how much you value their business). People are rarely as upset by the initial problem as they are by being utterly dismissed. For example, a company that insists it’s “done nothing wrong” or replies “there’s nothing we can do” adds insult to injury and, more often than not, loses that customer for life.

Here are a few tips for handling complaints and keeping your customers.

  • Know that the customer is always right. Customers are keenly aware of their rights and options. They judge a business by how well it responds to their complaints, and they know they can decide to go elsewhere if they’re aren’t satisfied. Yet many customers want to remain loyal, especially those who take the time to complain, because they expect that something the matter to be resolved. These are often a company’s most valuable customers.
  • Say you’re sorry — and mean it. Whatever the issue, whatever the complaint, be prepared to offer a sincere apology. In many cases, that’s all the customer wishes to hear.
  • Listen and empathize. Allow the customer to vent her frustration, then repeat back what was said so she knows you were listening. Don’t get defensive or attempt to downplay the issue. Thank the customer for taking time to bring the matter to your attention, and reaffirm your commitment to providing quality service.
  • Describe your solution, then take action. After a complaint has been lodged, the natural next question is, What are you going to do about it? Here’s where actions speak louder than words. Offer a quick fix whenever possible, and outline the steps you plan to take. If the situation is complicated, imagine how the customer would like the problem resolved and provide a realistic timeline for your response.
  • After you take action, follow up. Let the customer know when you’ve resolved the problem and, if appropriate, offer a gift certificate or a discount on his next purchase as a sign of good will. If he doesn’t reply, follow up. Ask: Is there anything more we can do for you? Be sure to let him know you appreciate his business.
  • Train your staff to be “complaint-friendly.” Make it easy for customers to provide feedback. Train your employees to deal with complaints on the spot whenever possible. Instruct them to always respond politely, with a sincere promise to make things right. Set up a system for addressing complaints, so that issues can be resolved promptly. Never let a dissatisfied customer slip through the cracks.

Your efforts will be well worth it: Just as customers leave when they feel they’re being ignored, those who have a positive experience after complaining may stay loyal for years to come. It’s in your power to keep them coming back.

About Lee Polevoi

Lee Polevoi is an award-winning freelance copywriter and editor and a former Senior Writer for Vistage International, a global membership organization of chief executive officers. He writes frequently on issues and challenges faced by U.S. small businesses.
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25 comments
jjs
jjs

I own a day spa in a small town.  We sell gift certificates and clients are CONSTANTLY losing them but still expect us to honor the gift certificate even though they can not produce it.  What is the best way to handle this situation?

Complaintsoffice
Complaintsoffice

Great read and good advice. We specialize in customer complaints. Worst thing a company can do is the form letter apology. Check us out at www.complaintsoffice.com

Orginal Kt
Orginal Kt

dont use intuit domain..they first register it and after 42hr they delete your doamin and close account so neither you can acess your account neither you can manage your domain...dont try intuit

Intuit
Intuit

@GracePlaton Thanks for sharing! Which of these do you think are the hardest to do? Amy K

Dawn Pettiglio
Dawn Pettiglio

How about when you charge my credit card on 6/5 for payroll service you don't provide until 7/3. Charge my card on 7/11 for a service I still don't have - promise a refund for the 6/5 charge that you never deliver on. Then tell me it isn't possible to give me a validation code to register the software I paid for? I am out over $1100 and you can't allow me to use your software? REALLY?

Nicholas Maddix
Nicholas Maddix

As the old saying goes, it's easier (and cheaper) to keep an old customer than find a new one. These are all great tips and these little things can go a long way into helping your business retain customers.

Intuit
Intuit

@scrappy_face They seem so simple don't they? Where any tips a surprise to you? I wonder how many train staff to deal with complaints! Amy K

suiji
suiji

Nice tips. I believe this is very important especially to receptionist and secretaries who serve as the front line persons when in comes to phone handling. It is very important for us to know how to take control over our emotions for us to help our clients and retain them in your company. I love reading this post!

small business
small business

i am happy for your reading comment and your comment is very nice

Blue Harvest Creative
Blue Harvest Creative

Very nice blog. Our luck seems to be 50/50 with how other businesses handle our issues and concerns. Most of these have to do with the service industries (banking, hotels). Our favorite helpful advice from one hotel employee was "if you don't like it, you can leave." Needless to say, we called corporate and got it resolved.

eshanfelt
eshanfelt

Maybe Intuit should take its own advice! Trying to cancel my payroll subscription and the only method Intuit gives is to call ... and there's a 45 minute wait to talk to anyone. That's horrible customer service. I posted this on your Twitter account and here on this comment form. So I wonder if anyone at Intuit is actually listening to the feedback from a long-time customer and will respond, take action, and follow up as you suggest in this post.

GracePlaton
GracePlaton

@intuit Thanks for the tips on handling customer complaints. Most challenging is training employees to be complaint-friendly....

scrappy_face
scrappy_face

@Intuit handle complaints and everyone else escalates the issues. It's a really hard topic! What have you found?

scrappy_face
scrappy_face

@Intuit They do seem simple and in-line with how we train our clients to handle complaints. We've found is usually a few people who...

Bryan F
Bryan F

Hi Eshanfelt,

 

I apologize, I had a typo in the email address, it was missing an underscore. Please email me at Ask_Intuit@intuit.com.

Thank you,

Bryan

Bryan F
Bryan F

Hello Eshanfelt,

I apologize for the bad customer service that you've received while trying to cancel your payroll subscription. I saw your post on Twitter yesterday and passed it along to the payroll group asking for help. I dropped the ball on this because I should have let you know what was going on, and then followed up with the payroll group. Can you send me your company name, phone #, and the contact name on your account to the following email address, askintuit@intuit.com attn: Bryan?

I'll forward your information to the payroll group and make sure someone contacts you.

Regards,

Bryan

 

Intuit
Intuit

@GracePlaton Yes! Because I don't think you can teach people how to care. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Amy K

Intuit
Intuit

@scrappy_face I should mention that this i just my not so humble opinion! (:

Intuit
Intuit

@scrappy_face It's a challenge to find employees who dig in & fix issues. Bulldog approach, we say. Either they care or they don't. Amy K

scrappy_face
scrappy_face

@Intuit Understood, and we're there with you :)

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