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Running a successful business with a large customer base is fantastic. But it isn’t always sunshine and rainbows, no matter the size, nature, or success of your business. 

It’s commonplace for customers to leave feedback throughout your entire business journey, and not all of that feedback will be positive. The good news is that it doesn’t always have to be difficult to respond to these complaints. 

Whether you view customer complaints in a negative or positive light, feedback will help you grow your business. Here are some ways to respond to customer complaints without damaging your reputation any further. 

7 Steps to Respond to Customer Complaints 

Responding to customer complaints doesn’t just mean apologizing and logging off for the day. Here are seven crucial steps to help you respond without further damaging your reputation: 

  1. Listen to the customer’s complaint 
  2. Identify the type of customer you are dealing with 
  3. Respond quickly
  4. Apologize and thank the customer
  5. Present a solution
  6. Log the complaint
  7. Incorporate changes using customer feedback 

The Easy Parts of Responding to Customer Complaints 

You may already be aware that receiving customer complaints is one of the easiest parts of running a business due to advances in technology, as many companies use customer service software for feedback and support.

It’s also fairly easy for customers to complain through third-party review platforms. While this obviously isn’t ideal, it’s equally easy for businesses to respond to complaints through review sites. As long as you claim your business profile through each platform, you can respond directly to complaints.

Furthermore, most businesses don’t realize how easy it is to protect their reputation online. 

Protecting and improving your online reputation has never been simpler with online reputation management companies. WebiMax is a leading digital marketing agency that specializes in reputation management for small businesses. 

WebiMax reputation management page
WebiMax has been helping businesses manage reviews and online reputations since 2008.

The best part about WebiMax is that it is customizable to your needs, and its system evolves with Google’s ever-changing algorithm. Working under a non-disclosure agreement, WebiMax ensures that all crisis management and positive branding are discreet. 

Whether you need help to improve your positive branding or an expert to monitor and manage your brand 24/7, WebiMax can do all the hard work for you as you continue to improve your business strategy and receive fewer complaints. 

The Difficult Parts of Responding to Customer Complaints 

Customer complaints can be a tough pill to swallow, especially if you feel like you haven’t done anything wrong. It’s important to keep calm, stay professional, and avoid doing or saying something that you’re going to regret.

One of the most difficult aspects of customer complaints is not knowing what to say in response. Miscommunication is common via text and email, so it’s important to take a brief moment to process the complaint before responding. 

If you’re speaking to a customer in person or over the phone, make sure you properly articulate yourself. Pay close attention to your tone and facial expressions as well.

Miscommunication certainly goes both ways, and sometimes customers can come across as more aggressive than they intend to be. 

Coming up with a resolution that keeps your customers happy can also be a challenge. You’re always going to have a handful of customers who can’t be pleased—even if you’re going above and beyond to rectify the complaint.

It’s also common for business owners to take complaints personally. You put so much time and effort into your business that you may instantly feel like any complaint is a personal attack. While it may be difficult at first, you must eliminate this mindset to ensure your judgment doesn’t get clouded when you’re dealing with complaints.

But responding effectively doesn’t have to be difficult, especially if you follow the steps below.

Step 1: Listen to the Customer’s Complaint

Before you even begin to form a response in your head, type it out, or reach for your phone, you need to listen to the customer’s complaint and understand it to the best of your ability. Taking a moment to process the complaint by truly understanding your customer will help you get to the root of the problem quickly and allow you to handle the complaint appropriately. 

After processing the complaint, you need to determine what the customer is trying to tell you. To do this efficiently, you should do two things: 

  • Identify the reason why your customer is dissatisfied 
  • Put yourself in your customer’s shoes 

Identifying why your customer is complaining will help you get to the root of the problem while putting yourself in your customer’s shoes helps create an empathetic environment before responding.

Stay Engaged

If you’re dealing with a live complaint, either in person or over the phone, it’s important to stay totally engaged with what the customer is saying.

Rather than trying to think of how you’re going to reply, it’s in your best interest to remain focused on every word that’s being said. For verbal complaints, you won’t have the luxury of going back and reading a review or service ticket.

Maintain eye contact whenever possible. Never roll your eyes or make inappropriate or dismissive facial expressions.

You can also look for non-verbal cues in the customer to try and understand the types of emotions that they’re feeling and how serious the complaint is. This will make it easier for you to resolve the problem later on.

If you’re frequently dealing with phone complaints, it can be really helpful to have call recording software. These tools let you go back and listen to the conversation—helping to keep you engaged in real-time instead of frantically taking notes while the customer is venting.

Don’t Interrupt

It can be tempting to try and resolve the problem right away. But resist the urge to interrupt a customer complaint.

In many cases, they just want to be heard. A free meal voucher or discount on the next purchase isn’t going to satisfy them.

But they’ll feel better about the situation if a manager sounds like they’re going to prevent this from happening in the future. So just let them vent and listen to the complete story before you cut them off or jump in.

If anything, get them to continue talking longer. You can ask them questions that will get them to elaborate—further solidifying that you’re actively listening.

Document the Complaint

It’s important to establish some type of workflow for how you’ll handle complaints. This ensures that nothing slips through the cracks and that every complaint gets a response.

The exact process will vary based on your business type and how the customer complained.

For example, let’s say someone walks into one of your physical storefronts and starts complaining to the first person they see. Your counter staff may not be qualified, equipped, or have the authority to resolve complaints.

But anyone on your team should be more than capable of filling out a quick complaint form. Include the customer’s name, contact information, and a few notes related to the problem. Once it’s officially documented, there must be a smooth handoff in the process to ensure the right person responds.

Larger organizations with dedicated customer service centers will likely give phone reps and live chat agents some type of authority to manage complaints. But for smaller businesses, it’s typically best for a manager to handle things after the initial documentation.

Step 2: Identify the Type of Customer You Are Dealing With 

You shouldn’t have a one-size-fits-all response for everyone. Instead, your response should be based on the type of customer you are dealing with. 

Generally, there are three different customer types—each requiring a different approach.

Aggressive Customers

Aggressive customers usually aren’t afraid to tell you when they are upset, even if the complaint seems minor. 

You should always respond with firm politeness when you’re dealing with aggression. Don’t escalate the situation and let things get out of control. Do whatever you can to diffuse the customer’s anger without starting a fight or argument. Control your volume and make sure to remain polite and professional.

At the end of the day, it’s never worth it to be combative with a customer.

In rare cases, be prepared to call the police if a customer starts making threats while complaining in person. While they might just be blowing off some steam, you never want to put yourself, your staff, or other customers in danger.

Frequent Complainers

Customers who complain frequently tend to be the most frustrating. But you still need to stay patient and react calmly. 

It’s in your best interest to follow up with these customers and make sure everything is running smoothly on their end. Following up not only shows the customer that you’re proactive and care about fixing the problem, but it also prevents the customer from complaining again in the future about similar issues.

While frequent complainers can be annoying, you can reframe your mindset and also look at them as frequent customers.

You can start to establish some rapport with them by referring back to previous incidents that you’ve successfully resolved. This reminds them that you’re doing your best to accommodate them, and they might even be willing to update or delete a review they’ve written.

Loyal Customers

Loyal customers have been using your services for a long period and paying for premium support. These customers should be a priority when responding to and resolving conflicts.

Giving away a little bit more to these customers to keep them happy is worth it in the long run. 

Try to offer a solution quickly and make sure the customer knows you are being proactive about the situation. It’s always a good idea to create a VIP or premium support folder—making it easier to respond to and identify their specific complaints.

First-Time Customers

Dealing with a first-time customer who complains can be tricky for businesses. At this point, it’s impossible to tell if they’re going to be a frequent complainer or a loyal customer.

But it’s in your best interest to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume the complaint is legitimate.

Getting customers isn’t easy. So it’s definitely worth it to invest your time in a first-time customer by responding to their complaint and ensuring they come back again.

In some cases, you might be able to identify a first-time customer as a one-time customer. This is common for businesses that operate in areas with lots of tourists.

For example, if the review starts with “I was on vacation with my family” or “We just happened to stop by here on a cross-country road trip,” then it’s unlikely that the customer will return.

But appropriately responding to the review is still crucial, as other potential customers in similar situations will see the review and your response. Try to keep this in mind when you’re responding to these types of reviews, and craft a reply that will appeal to others who will actually visit your business.

Step 3: Respond Quickly

Whether your customer is loyal or not, it’s imperative to promptly respond to all complaints to avoid losing customers or encouraging a bad online reputation. 

Address Every Customer Complaint 

Even if you can’t resolve an issue swiftly, you should still always address every customer in a caring way. If it turns out that you can’t solve an issue within the hour, let your customer know this and give them a rough timeframe on when you will be able to solve the issue. 

Failing to address your customer’s complaints might lead them to believe that you don’t care enough about the issue, which, in most cases, certainly worsens the situation. 

If your business is extremely large or if you spend a lot of time out of the office on service calls, you may have to consider hiring an online reputation management company to handle these responses for you. This service will make sure you stay on top of any negative reviews.

Consider An Automatic Response 

You should never sound robotic in your response to customers. However, if you are busy with the day-to-day, you should consider setting up an automatic response message to let your customers know that you will get back to them in a certain amount of time. 

The right customer service software makes it easy to deliver automatic replies through the appropriate channels.

Do Not Respond in Frustration

Although it is important to respond as quickly as possible to a negative review or customer complaint, tread carefully here. If you are tempted to respond immediately to a snarky, sarcastic customer review with an equal amount of snark on your end, you should hold off for a bit. 

If needed, give yourself a cooling-off period after reading the negative review. If you are feeling frustrated and having a bad day, don’t respond immediately. After a couple of hours, you may be able to approach your response calmly and professionally so you won’t escalate the customer’s frustration and lead to more problems.

Step 4: Apologize and Thank the Customer 

When the time comes to respond to your customer’s complaint, you should offer an apology and thank the customer for their feedback. 

Express Empathy 

After apologizing and thanking the customer, express empathy by explaining your understanding of the situation. If possible, try to recognize what the customer may have lost from experiencing the issue and let them know that you understand this and that it was unacceptable to have happened in the first place. 

There’s a human element to customer service that can’t be ignored. For example, you might not think it’s a big deal if one wrong order was shipped to a customer because you can always just ship them the right one. But that wrong item might have been a birthday gift for a loved one, and the right order may not arrive in time. 

While this obviously isn’t the end of the world, empathy goes a long way in making the customer feel like they’re valued and being heard.

Avoid Deflecting Blame or Being Passive-Aggressive 

The most challenging part of dealing with complaints is needing to respond when you aren’t sure what to say. Because text comes with a lot of potential for miscommunication, it’s imperative you do your best to avoid deflecting blame or being passive-aggressive in your response. 

You don’t have to agree with every single customer, but you should empathize with anyone sharing their disappointing experience. Avoid responses like “I’m sorry you feel that way,” and instead try, “I’m sorry you have experienced this issue with us. How can we make this better for you?” 

When it comes to apologizing to customers, it’s always best to ask them what they need from you—especially if they haven’t already stated this in their complaint. 

When it comes to taking responsibility, the last thing you want to do is deflect the blame onto someone else. No matter what one of your employees did or didn’t do, you are the business owner. Ultimately, the buck stops with you. Remember this when replying to customer complaints, so that you never say, “Employee X was responsible for this and will be reprimanded,” and instead take the steps to make a real apology and take responsibility/be accountable for the situation.

Step 5: Present a Solution 

Presenting an appropriate solution to the customer is an essential step when responding to a complaint. It allows you to show the customer you are serious about preventing the issue from ever recurring. 

Let the Customer Know You Have Identified the Issue 

First and foremost, you can only present a solution to an issue you have identified and understood, so you should lead with this in your response. 

This also shows the customer that you’re taking time to get to the root of the problem. It’s much more genuine and sincere than simply providing a generic or predetermined response to all questions. 

Saying that “Our team is actively looking into your complaint” isn’t very effective. The customer deserves more detail to prove that you’re actually doing what you’re saying. Give them a reason for what happened.

Just make sure that the reason doesn’t come across like you’re making an excuse. Always take accountability and ownership of the issue, regardless of what happened and explain how you plan to prevent the same issue from happening in the future.

Explain How You Will Prevent the Issue From Recurring 

Sometimes, this is not always possible, especially with technical issues, as technology can be unpredictable. However, if possible, it’s always a good idea to explain how you will prevent this issue from recurring.

For example, if an issue arises due to slow customer support, you could say: “We are sorry for the inconvenience this has caused. We are working on hiring a dedicated customer support team to prevent this from happening again.” 

Explaining how you’ll prevent the issue from occurring again is crucial because it invites the customer to try your product or service again. It may also stop that customer from writing a bad review, which is a crucial strategy for managing your online reputation.

Verify That the Problem Has Been Solved 

After presenting a solution, verify that the solution has worked for the customer. The last thing you want is recurring complaints, and the best way to avoid this is to verify. 

If you can’t verify within the hour, it’s best to follow up with the customer. If you are dealing with a customer through a customer service portal, you should consider monitoring any satisfaction ratings you receive afterward. 

Usually, a negative satisfaction rating means that the customer was unhappy with the service, so following up is best in this situation too, as it makes sure you don’t need to address any additional issues. 

Make an Offer to Keep the Customer Happy

Giving the customer something of value can go a long way in resolving their complaint.

At the end of the day, you don’t want to lose their business. It’s much harder (and more expensive) to acquire new customers than it is to retain your existing ones. This really puts things into perspective if you’re debating whether or not to offer them something.

Do you really want to lose a customer over $5 or $10? Even $20 or $50—it’s better to offer a little bit more to ensure they’re happy.

Gift cards, vouchers, and freebies are the obvious choice. But treat each situation uniquely and use your judgment on what makes the most sense.

For example, let’s say you’re running a coffee shop, and a customer complains because their coffee tastes burnt. You probably don’t need to give this person a $50 gift card. But offering them another cup on the house should be enough to keep them happy.

However, if you’re a dry cleaner that ruins a new $500 dress, a free shirt voucher probably won’t cut it.

Step 6: Log the Complaint 

It’s not worth logging every complaint you receive, especially if it’s a one-off. But if you receive multiple complaints about the same issue, tracking these patterns helps you resolve issues faster and sometimes prevent them from happening altogether. 

Track Trends

Logging similar complaints allows you to track trends and determine what you should be doing differently to prevent recurring issues. Logging the complaint, monitoring how often you receive similar ones, and reaching out to each customer after resolving it is the easiest way to track trends within your business strategy. 

Be detailed when you’re logging complaints. For example, it’s important to record the date and time that the incident occurred. 

Let’s say you received ten complaints related to customer service in the past month. Keeping a detailed log might help you trace all of those incidents back to a specific customer service rep. The result may be additional training and monitoring, or you might need to let that person go.

Manage High-Volume Complaints with WebiMax

Not only does WebiMax help small businesses manage their reputation, but it also offers a free reputation analysis to get started. The reputation analysis takes an in-depth look into your online presence and forms a report on everything you need to know to turn your reputation around.

WebiMax "Start With a Free Reputation Analysis" page
Get a free reputation analysis and custom quote from WebiMax today.

You can manage high-volume complaints through WebiMax by investing in its content deletion feature or by simply getting a report on all the negative content that exists online and how long it will take to remove it. 

Step 7: Incorporate Changes Using Customer Feedback

Not every single complaint requires you to change your business strategy, but that’s why you need to monitor your complaints in the first place. 

If you receive a high volume of complaints surrounding a similar issue, you need to change something. To figure out if you need to implement a new business strategy, you must listen to your customers, track trends, and draw connections between complaints. 

Whether you run a small business or not, you should have a team meeting to discuss any changes in strategy. It’s better to have more people to brainstorm with, especially if you aren’t sure how to incorporate the feedback. 

If you are an individual, we would still recommend meeting with a reputation management professional or investing in an online system like WebiMax, to help you understand what you need to do better.

Take Action

After receiving and responding to customer complaints, it’s time to put your words into action.

Let’s say you’ve determined that all customer-service-related complaints from the past month were all tied to one specific employee. It’s definitely time to have a chat with that person.

Don’t rush to conclusions, and understand that there are two sides to every story. But you need to make sure that your staff is adequately trained to deal with customers to prevent this from happening again and again.

You might also have lots of complaints related to a particular product, service, or something specific.

For example, let’s say part of your business requires in-person appointments at customer homes, and you’re getting an influx of complaints related to late arrivals. Rather than guaranteeing a specific appointment time, you may decide to give people a one or two-hour arrival window.

Responding to Customer Complaints: Your Top Questions Answered