Let’s be honest: No one enjoys receiving a complaint.

However, as a business owner, managing negative feedback in a positive way is essential for growth and improvement. The poor handling of a customer’s grievance can be one of the easiest ways to destroy an otherwise impeccable reputation.

It would be simple to dismiss a complaint by saying, “You can’t please everyone,” or, “It’s just one customer.” But don’t make that mistake! Consider these facts:


  • For every customer who bothers to complain, 26 others have remained silent, according to the White House Office of Consumer Affairs.
  • Customers tell an average of nine people about good experiences, but tell 16 people about poor experiences, according to a 2011 American Express survey.
  • More than 90 percent of unhappy customers will not willingly do business with you again, according to Lee Resources.
  • However, nearly 95 percent of customers will give your business a second chance if you handle their complaint promptly and successfully, according to the Jim Moran Institute.
  • These statistics demonstrate that complaints — and how you handle them — do matter to your business.

    A recording of a phone call with an internet provider recently went viral as a prime example of how not to treat a dissatisfied customer. So what is it you ought to do when your business receives a complaint?

    1. Acknowledge

    Perhaps most importantly, never ignore a complaint. Treat the customer with genuine respect and take the issue seriously. Empathy and a sincere willingness to listen will go a long way toward making the customer feel validated and appreciated.

    It can be difficult to successfully resolve a complaint on social sites such as Twitter or Yelp; in those cases, direct the customer to a medium where you can help resolve the matter, such as your direct e-mail address or phone number.

    2. Apologize

    Say you’re sorry. This is not an admission of guilt — it is common courtesy, and it’s what every customer wants to hear.

    If the customer is being unreasonable or rude, don’t respond in a demeaning or dismissive manner. Instead, remain calm and positive and don’t take the matter personally. Oftentimes, if you put yourself in the customer’s shoes, you’ll realize that you would be just as upset as he or she is.

    After apologizing, refocus away from the emotions and get to the situation at hand by asking how you might help resolve the issue. Keep in mind that problems are opportunities to rebuild trust.

    3. Analyze

    Complaints often contain insight. Listen to the customer’s feedback and let him or her educate you. The customer should be part of the solution, not viewed as part of the problem.

    Next, ask clarifying questions. Before you can resolve the complaint, you must understand exactly what went wrong and what the customer wants. If it’s not clear what he or she is seeking, involve the customer in your resolution decision-making through phrases such as, “What do you think would be fair?”

    4. Act

    Time is of the essence. An unhappy customer wants the problem to be fixed immediately, so responding to him or her with a resolution is a priority.

    If it’s not possible to remedy the situation right away, explain the steps you will take and give the customer a timeframe.

    On occasion, a customer may be in the wrong, or the problem is a result of his or her own misunderstanding. In those cases, politely inform or correct the customer without placing blame or criticizing. If you go about this graciously, the customer will be empowered by the knowledge you impart on him or her.

    5. Appreciate

    Invite the customer to verify that you have resolved the issue. Even if it is obvious that the situation has been corrected, the customer will appreciate the fact that you care enough to follow up.

    Express your sincere appreciation to the customer for giving you the opportunity to understand and remedy the situation. This will ensure the interaction ends on a positive note.

    Megan Lum works for the Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington. She can be reached at: [email protected]

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