Customer Complaints Are A Gift

When a customer calls you to complain about your company, they have given you a gift.

iStock_000000813699SmallI know that seems counter-intuitive, but it is true for two reasons.

  1. This is great news because they could have chosen to simply fire your company as a vendor.  That is what the majority of unhappy people do.  They don’t fuss and fume, they simply leave.
  2. A problem that is handled well can actually be an opportunity to create a stronger relationship with your customer.  None of your clients actually believe your company is perfect, infallible and incapable of making a mistake.  What they really want to know is if you can handle mistakes appropriately and put systems in place so you don’t repeat them.

What does it take to handle customer complaints well?  Consider adding the following to your process:

  • Written Policies: A written policy for handling customer complaints that everyone in the company has been trained on, not just customer service reps or your receptionist.
  • Clear Guidelines: Clear guidelines about when customer complaints need to be brought to the attention of a manager, an owner, the company attorney, etc.  Be aware that if managers are allowed to fly-off-the-handle at employees who admit to mistakes, they simply won’t tell you about things you really need to know about.  Employees should be held responsible, but remember that they are watching your manager’s reactions to bad news and deciding how much to tell them in the future.
  • Self-Control: Resist the urge to react to the complaint.  Try to avoid getting defensive, denying responsibility, throwing someone else under the bus, or even apologizing.
  • Initiative: The initiative to lead with the words “I want to help you.  May I please ask you some questions to make sure I understand your situation?”  Your most important job is to start gathering facts.  Don’t deny or apologize.  You don’t know all the facts yet.
  • Patience: The patience to let someone who has called to complain tell their whole story.  You are allowing them to release the steam from their pressure cooker.  If you cut them off, try to hurry them up, etc. you are only going to start increasing the pressure again.
  • Cooling-Off Period: Once you have gathered the details from someone about their complaint, you need to say something like “I am going to start looking into this for you.  May I follow-up with you this afternoon (tomorrow morning, etc.)? What would be the most convenient time for me to call you?”  This gives you time to do your homework, talk with others involved, decide on an appropriate response and then talk with your complainer after they have had an opportunity to cool off.
  • Planned Response: Your company many not have actually made a mistake, but you need accurate information before you can discuss that with your client. On the other hand, if your company has blundered, you need time to determine what you are going to offer your client to correct the situation and ensure it doesn’t happen again.  You will not regain your customer’s confidence if you don’t explicitly address this.

The good news is that when a customer complaint is handled professionally and appropriately you can forge a new level of trust with your client and a more lasting relationship.

Does your company have a plan and a process for handling customer complaints well or do they represent a ticking time bomb?

This blog was written by Laurie Leonard, the President of SUITE 1000, a U.S. based national telephone answering service, inbound call center and outsourced call center service. Her company has specialized in handling legal intake, sales leads, email lead response, appointment scheduling, customer service and help desk calls for over 20 years.

Copyright © 2024 SUITE 1000. All rights reserved.

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6 thoughts on “Customer Complaints Are A Gift

    • Ludwig, I am glad you enjoyed the article. I also appreciated you sharing some great follow-up info with me off-line. You not only handled the complaint that you mentioned well. The client actually sent you a referral! That is the power of having a great complaint response process. You built your customer’s confidence in you and you built a stronger relationship. Very impressive!

  1. I will also suggest that it is better to err on the side of enabling your front-line customer service reps to take immediate action to make the customer happy. It demonstrates to the customer that you are responsive to their needs and it also treats your employees as responsible ambassadors for the company. Both far better than saying “I’m sorry you feel that way, I’ll ask someone to get back to you.”

    • Randy, you highlight an important point – the need to provide your employees with clear guidelines on how much latitude they have in addressing complaints and under what circumstances.

      It is always ideal to resolve issues on-the-spot, but if the situation is complicated or there are serious liability issues involved (ex. a large financial loss, an injury, etc.) employees need to know when to ask for the assistance of a manager.

      I know that your company works with businesses who want to franchise themselves. An important step toward that goal is creating consistent written processes. Do you have any suggestions that would give our readers guidance on crafting their own customer service policies?

  2. Love this article. In my experience, business owners err in one of two ways:

    1. Apologize and hurry to offer something that will make the complaint (and complainer) go away. When you really didn’t do anything wrong, you’re setting yourself up for requests for concessions in the future.
    2. Defend and deny which will only make the client feel like you don’t care.

    Laurie points out that a “thoughtful” approach is best for everyone concerned, and she’s right. She has talked me through similar issues many times — I always appreciate her patience and advice.

    • Denise, thanks for your input! I know you have a couple of webinars coming up that are relevant and may be helpful to our readers. The first on May 5th is on “Difficult Conversations” and the second on July 19th is on “Effective Negotiations”. For more information and to register go to: I have participated myself and highly recommend them.

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