How to Respond Effectively to Customer Complaints

Every business has customers, and customers sometimes complain. Whether their complaints are legitimate or their expectations are unrealistic, responding effectively to them is part of doing good business and building your customer base.

Continue reading for tips on how to respond to customer complaints.

Here’s the first clue for how to respond to customer complaints – SMILE! – credit Charanjeet Dhiman on

What are Customer Complaints?

Some of the customers who buy whatever you sell will sooner or later find something to complain about.

When you make a mistake, or your customer thinks you did, how you respond to their complaint is a critical factor in their view of you as a supplier of what you offer.

Do it right, and you gain a loyal customer and, in many cases, a friend. Do it wrong, and you not only lose a customer; you also lose potential business from the people to whom your disgruntled customer relates their unpleasant experience.

Doing Business the Customer-Friendly Way

Whatever product or service you sell, someone somewhere buys it from you. From time to time, one of those “someones” will complain about what they bought, how they were treated, or something else.

Customers come in all sizes, shapes, and temperaments.

Sometimes you’ll believe their complaint is legitimate. Sometimes you’ll see that the customer expected something you didn’t offer or promise. Perhaps sometimes you’ll find that the customer is just being unreasonable because that’s their nature.

Here are some suggestions for how to respond to customer complaints, whatever your opinion is of their claim.

  1. LISTEN to their complaint. Every person in the world wants more than most things to be heard. Often that’s all they want. So hear them out, without interrupting. If they have questions, answer honestly and unemotionally, not defensively.
  1. APOLOGIZE for their inconvenience or dissatisfaction, even if their expectation wasn’t realistic. This doesn’t imply that you agree with them; you’re just getting on “their side of the table,” which is where you want to be whenever you can.
  1. During this exchange, SMILE, whether you feel like it or not. Whether you’re face to face with the customer, on the phone, or even answering an email, your response will be disarming if you smile while delivering it. This takes practice, especially when facing an irate customer.
  1. When they’ve said what they have to say, ASK them, “What can we do to make this situation, service or product satisfactory for you?”
  1. When they’ve answered that question, DO what you reasonably can to meet their new expectations. If their request is too expensive or time-consuming, explain what you can do to correct the situation for them. Usually, you and the customer can come to some agreement that will satisfy them.
  1. In the rare case where the customer remains unsatisfied with the result of all that, THANK them for their business and write them off as unsuitable to be a continuing customer. Some people, very few I find, are just not worth the trouble! 

As a side note, I highly recommend that, when you become the customer, you avoid being one of those people mentioned in point #6!.

Here are Some Ways Not to Respond to Customer Complaints

In your conversation with a dissatisfied customer, it’s essential to avoid an adversarial exchange whenever possible. This can be difficult when the customer is not only dissatisfied but angry as well. You must avoid getting angry in response. Your anger will never add anything useful to the exchange, and it’ll keep you from thinking clearly, which is essential.

Some responses you should avoid when answering customer complaints are:  

  • Defending your company’s position or product. If you defend your position, it sets up a back-and-forth argument that’s likely to result only in further dissatisfaction for both you and the customer. Asking what will satisfy them is a much better approach.
  • Agreeing immediately to do exactly what the customer is asking, without considering the cost. If you find later that you really can’t afford to take the action the customer is asking for, you’ll now have a doubly unhappy customer – definitely not the result you’re after.

When you respond to customer complaints in the ways I’ve suggested, you can turn a mistake into a gain. When you respond in a positive manner to a complaint, (most of) your customers will respect you for it and recognize that you’re the kind of person or company they want to buy from again.

Note: Archived issues of The Unity Community are available here. Search that page for keywords representing your particular interest. Most articles offer suggestions for ways of improving business and personal relationships. Keep in mind that business is done by…people. Every business concern is essentially an inter-personal concern. 

A “Shot in the Arm” Every Day!

Eric Lofholm, my friend, mentor and sales coach, hosts a 15-minute motivational call every business day.  The call is at 7:45 AM Pacific time. Register for it here. You’ll find instructions on how to join the call on Facebook, Zoom, by phone, or in a recording you can access on your schedule. 

Let’s Talk!

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