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How to Handle Customer Complaints

There’s not a one of us who enjoys hearing criticism or complaints about our businesses.  Criticism is inevitable, and it’s actually a useful tool if you learn how to handle it effectively.  Healthy companies grow and evolve, and customer complaints can actually help you focus your efforts to improve in a way that’s seriously productive.

How to Handle Customer Complaints

Have complaints?  A crummy online review?  An irate customer?  Try these strategies:

1. Take Your Time

One of the most useful strategies I’ve learned is to wait 24 hours to respond to a customer complaint.  Unless you actually have a customer in front of you who needs immediate attention, taking a breather before you address criticism can help give you perspective.  If you’re angry or upset, you’re likely to say something that’s less-than-professional, and you could end up making the situation worse.  Think about what you want to achieve in your response and craft it accordingly.

2. Ignore Criticism That’s Purely Inflammatory

While it’s important to monitor reviews and in-person complaints (as they’re wonderful for finding ways to improve,) you shouldn’t lose a wink of sleep about complaints that are clearly ridiculous.  Whether a competitor posts a fake review or a customer is just having a wretched day, sometimes the best response is none at all.  Most consumers are savvy enough to write off online reviews that are clearly not legitimate.

3. Don’t Be Offended by the Tone

It’s healthy to ignore crazy complaints, but it’s important that we not discard valid criticism just because it’s delivered in a less-than-ideal way.  Maybe your customer is rude, but maybe he also has a point.  Particularly if you’ve received the same complaints on more than one occasion, don’t ignore suggestions for improvement, even if they’re impolite.

4. Identify What You Can Learn

If a customer takes the time to make a suggestion, you’re missing an opportunity if you don’t take the time to consider it.  One of my favorite instances of a criticism that ended up being a wonderful suggestion was at a book signing for one of my books.  A customer handed me her book, and I started to sign it.  She said, “You’re signing the wrong page.”  I was a little taken aback at her blunt tone, but when she suggested that I sign the title page, rather than a blank page, I saw the genius.  Now I see pictures of my title page — complete with my signature — on Facebook and Instagram … free marketing!

5. Get to a Solution

When you have a valid complaint or review from a customer, in addition to learning what you can improve in your company, the most important thing you can do is resolve the customer’s problem.  If  patrons of your restaurant received slow service on an understaffed day, then apologize and offer incentive for them to return.  If customers are disappointed in a product’s performance, ask how you can make them happy.  If customers take the time to complain (legitimately, of course,) we as business owners have an obligation to make it right.  Be solution-focused, and you stand a good chance of keeping that customer and encouraging them to become even more loyal.

As hard as we try, we all end up disappointing clients from time to time.  Perfection isn’t possible, but conscientious entrepreneurs learn from mistakes and always strive to deliver excellence.

Defuse a Bomb Photo via Shutterstock

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Mike Michalowicz Mike Michalowicz is a globally recognized entrepreneurial advocate and is the author of Profit First, The Pumpkin Plan and The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur. Mike can be seen as a segment host on MSNBC where he leads business makeovers, and frequently on news channels as a small business expert. He is a former small business columnist for The Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur and American Express Open Forum.

2 Reactions
  1. It may take some practice but it is important to not take complaints personally and not get carried away with the emotion and just listen to what your customer needs.

  2. Mike: I like your advice to take your time. Otherwise it could be a rush job, jumping on the train wreck… Do you have examples of small business owners who have handled customer complaints in a good way, and turned around them into ambassadors?