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How to Deal With Customer Complaints

7-minute read

Dealing with customer complaints can be stressful, like this entrepreneur is discovering. Fortunately, our advice can help!
Pauline Germanos

Pauline Germanos

24 September 2018

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One of the most unpredictable parts of running your own business in the digital age is online customer reviews – especially complaints.

No matter how big or small, the first negative comment can be easily taken to heart, but it’s important to put feelings aside and focus on your business. Plus, you might not realize how normal and common poor reviews are – everyone has an opinion, but that doesn’t mean your business will be taken down because of it.

How you respond to a customer complaint is a major contribution to your reputation – people can read reviews and form snap judgements. Why is that important? Many potential clients will search for customer reviews before investing in your business. It’s also indicative of your business’ morals and standards, so you want to make sure you display that to the best of your ability.

You also don’t want to lose an existing customer – that can be a big financial loss, as it’s harder to get new customers. If you didn’t know it before, it’s good to know now that you could lose a customer over one poor customer service incident. More than half of Americans will cancel a planned transaction because of a single customer service incident done poorly. You might think “it’s just one customer,” but one customer gone can have a severe impact – businesses in the US alone lose over $62 billion annually due to bad customer service and a large part of that is losing existing clients.

Customer Service Is the Key To A Successful Business

You’ve probably witnessed for yourself that people tend to talk about a poor customer service experience more than they choose to rave about a good one. People naturally like to complain and share gossip. It behooves you to treat customer service as your top priority if you want to build a strong client base.

However, there’s no need to be too overwhelmed, because while every complaint is unique, there are a few tricks of the trade that you can be super helpful for responding to your first complaint:

Is It A Real Complaint or Just A Bully?

Before proceeding with anything, it’s important to discern if the negative review warrants a response or not. There are a lot of trolls on the internet, so you may find a bully who is just looking to mess around on the internet. If there is no basis to the complaint, or it’s not related to your business, you know it’s a troll or someone looking to take their anger out on strangers in the interweb.

However, if it is a legitimate complaint, you need to respond and you need to respond quick. This shows your customer that they aren’t being ignored and you view them as a top priority. The longer you wait, people will think you lack care, are unprofessional, and begin to question your legitimacy.

Another thing is, someone may complain that your product or service is missing something you don’t currently offer and that you don’t want to offer. Discernment is key, so don’t fret and remember to breathe!

Adopt the Attitude of “The Customer is Always Right”

I know you’ve heard it before, but it’s worth saying again. Offer an apology right off the bat, and act as a mediator before proceeding with anything else. If you are in the wrong, you are more respected for taking ownership, rather than trying to defend yourself. If the customer is wrong, this not only shows that you care about their concerns, but it also proves to other people that your approach to customer service is with sophistication and respect.

Here is a good example of an initial response:

Dear (Customer’s Name),

We’re sorry for any trouble this may have caused you. We take our customer’s concerns seriously and are glad to hear from you.

Then, personalize the response so you are addressing the specific complaint. Highlight every point they made and apologize for the distress. Then, close out by offering them a solution – and perhaps offer them something to make up for the error such as a discount on their next purchase or a refund.

If the issue is not something you resolve within five minutes and you feel flustered, tell the customer you will get back to them within a short time frame – something along the lines of “We appreciate your time and we’d like to investigate this issue further. We will get back to you with more information within 24 hours. In the meantime, if you have any other questions or concerns, feel free to contact us at (your customer service center’s email or number).

If this review is posted on a social platform that has a direct messaging option, you may want to follow-up there so the customer feels their privacy is respected. If, for example, it’s posted on a Facebook page’s’ comments section, you may consider responding right on the thread with “I’m sorry to hear this happened. Please check your DM’s as we continue to work on resolving the problem.

This is especially important on social media platforms like Facebook. They have a public forum attitude, and unfortunately it is a place where people feel comfortable to express all of their emotions. Be proactive and notice the attitude of people posting – as soon as you sense that the customer is heated, direct them to private messaging.

Take Notes, and Ask for Clarification

To start, you’ll want to restate the customer’s complaint, and check with them just to ensure that you have heard them correctly. Make sure you don’t come across as accusing the customer of anything – avoid the word “you” and instead use the word “I” or “our.” For an example, instead of saying “you didn’t get the right item,” say “our system made an error with the purchase.” This also shows respect and patience with the customer. As the conversation continues, take a lot of notes to see where you could have been in the wrong, as you may find an underlying issue you didn’t notice before with your service.

Here are some things to think about: Where did the initial error happen? Is this the first time a problem like this happened? Was this an easy mistake, or something I could have had more care with? What is upsetting the customer the most? What is the emotional impact my error made? (Sad, Disappointed, Offended, Confused, etc.)

Most importantly, you want to ask yourself “How can I make this right and ensure that this customer feels good enough to stay?” Once you have figured that out, make sure you state it specifically so the customer is fully aware and understands how you are going to be proactive about solving the problem.

Document Everything

In the event the issue escalates into something more serious (such as a lawsuit), you’ll feel prepared by keeping tabs on the situation. Save the initial complaint and document the ongoing conversation. In many ways, complaints are a valid form of customer feedback -- you may find there is a trend in feedback that demands your focus, which could be an opportunity to improve your business. This also protects you if the customer claims you have acted or behaved inappropriately in response to their concerns.

Make Sure You Have Good Coverage

You really should have insurance, because you never know when a complaint will progress into a legal issue. Whether a customer claims a product has been tampered with, reports information being misleading, or feels that the service didn’t match up to their expectations, you want to make sure you are covered. If you’re stuck between whether or not your small business needs general liability insurance, Simply Business is happy to answer any and all questions about insurance.

Don’t Delete a Customer’s Complaint

The internet is a popular platform for people to post complaints. Deleting the bad review could actually hurt your reputation, as other people pay attention to how you respond to the good and especially the bad. People won’t think your service is legitimate if you can’t show that you know how to handle poor reviews. By showing you have a friendly approach to responding to any and all feedback, you’ll impress a lot more people. And again, if this seems like it could turn into a legal issue, deleting won’t help you at all. If anything, take screenshots as proof of exactly how the complaint was reported and how you responded.

Be Proactive with Customer Surveys

You could actually help to prevent or minimize negative reviews with a customer feedback survey; it’s a really good way to learn from your mistakes. This is a not only going to get you real feedback on how to improve, but it’s also an impressive customer service move – even for customers who aren’t complaining. You may choose to send this out in response to an incident that required customer service (and see how the customer felt it was handled), or it can be something you send out frequently to get general feedback on your business. By doing this, you’re not only searching for what’s going wrong, but also highlighting what you are doing right.

There’s a lot of areas you can get customer feedback on, but for customer experience, here are a few questions you might want to ask in a monthly/quarterly/bi-annually survey (with a focus on the product or service you are selling):

  1. How would you rate our product/service on a scale of 1-10?
  2. Please explain your answer.
  3. How has our product/service made an impact on you/your business/your life?
  4. What is your favorite thing about our product/service?
  5. What would you tell your friends or colleagues about us?
  6. Has any part of our business exceeded your expectations?

And if you want feedback on your customer service, you might ask these:

  1. Were you greeted in a friendly manner?
  2. Did our staff answer your questions?
  3. Did you find our staff helpful and courteous?
  4. Were you served promptly?
  5. How can we make your experience even better?

You may want to customize your questions based on what your service offers (i.e. landscaping, virtual assistant, photography) or the medium you want to use for customer service (email, an online chat, phone call, etc.). You don’t want to overload your customers with too many surveys, but they should be sent out more than once a year. If it’s a phone call, you don’t want to waste time with too many questions, whereas if you have send an email, you can give more questions since it allows the customer to take their time to fill out the survey online.

If you’re worried about getting people to fill out a survey, you can consider offering a perk such as being entered to win a prize or automatically receive a discount for completing the survey. If you can motivate the customer, they’ll likely take the time to fill out your form. If you don’t feel the information you’re asking for is urgent and are just doing it as a maintenance thing, then you don’t need to offer an incentive.

The Good News: You Are Running Your Dream Job

Don’t forget, while you’re in the midst of the dirty work and the annoying parts of running a business, you’re also successfully making your vision come true. Customer feedback is a natural and destined part of the job, so there’s no need to be discouraged. You can always win back your customers if you actually made a big mistake by offering a sincere apology, actively solving the problem, and offering customers a proactive step that you will take to ensure that you are taking accountability. Revolve just had to pull a product from their site and make up for it by taking action, which they did successfully by issuing a thorough apology and making a donation to an organization they had intended to raise money for. If a large company can do it, so can you!

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Pauline Germanos

Written by

Pauline Germanos

When she’s not writing for SB, Pauline runs an intuitive healing business... and is still writing as she types up psychic readings! As she was raised by entrepreneurs, she knows what it takes to be a small business owner.

Pauline writes on a number of topics such as small business owner resources, marketing, and customer service and retention.

This content is for general, informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal, tax, accounting, or financial advice. Please obtain expert advice from industry specific professionals who may better understand your business’s needs. Read our full disclaimer

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