Nobody likes getting complaints. But how you handle them can make or break your business. Some people bury their heads in the sand and ignore them, and others use them as an opportunity to improve. 

Here, we’ll talk about the best way to handle customer complaints on a step-by-step basis:

  • Respond
  • Empathise
  • Investigate
  • Value the customer
  • Review your process

Following these easy steps is the best way to turn negative feedback into an opportunity. 


First thing’s first, you’ll need to talk to the customer. 

Ignoring a customer complaint is a surefire way to make things way worse. We understand that you might not be able to deal with the complaint right then and there, but you should at least acknowledge the customer. 

A quick email or phone call can go a long way. Let them know that you’ve heard their complaint, and you’ll try to get to the bottom of it as soon as possible. People hate uncertainty more than anything, so a quick response will make them feel better immediately. 

Try to avoid auto-responses, or automated phone systems, for customer complaints. It’ll make the customer feel like they’ve been palmed off because they’re not a priority. Machines don’t care about people, and everybody knows it, so auto-responses will just make the customer feel like you don’t care. 

If you do use auto-replies regularly, which is fine, set up an alternative email address for complaints that won’t trigger them. 


One of the quickest ways to make somebody feel better is to empathise with them. They’re annoyed, maybe even angry, so letting them know you understand will calm them down. 

Something as simple as saying “I’m sorry to hear that. I can see why that’s a problem” will help a lot. By empathising like this, suddenly you’re both on the same side. It’s you and the customer vs the problem, rather than you vs the customer. 

Most people are fairly reasonable, even when they’re complaining. Showing them you care will make them feel a whole lot better very quickly. 


After getting the complaint, your top priority should be figuring out what happened. You’ll know better than anybody how to do this for your own business. But generally, try to get the whole picture.

Look at the customer’s case file, if they have one. Speak to your staff member who might have dealt with the customer and get their side of the story. 

You won’t be able to help unless you know exactly what happened. 

There is also every chance that the customer complaint is, for lack of a better term, nonsense. This shouldn’t be your first thought, but it definitely happens sometimes. Maybe they have a history of complaining. Some people do this just to try and get free compensation.

If that’s the case, politely stand your ground. If you don’t, they’ll probably just keep doing it 

Solve the problem

After figuring out what’s gone wrong, get started on fixing the problem. 

Hopefully there’s a simple solution. If they’ve been overcharged, give them a refund. If they’ve not gotten something they should have, give them that thing. 

Of course, some complaints will be more difficult to deal with than others. Maybe one of your staff members has done something unprofessional, that could involve some more difficult actions like discipline, warnings, or even letting somebody go. 

Whatever you do to solve the problem, make sure you tell the customer exactly what’s being done about it. Again, it’s about making them feel like you’re both on the same side, working to fix a common problem. 

Value the customer

Everything we’ve covered up to this point is about helping the customer feel valued, as well as solving their problems. 

To really drive home how much you value their business, you could offer them something in the way of compensation. It doesn’t have to be anything too crazy, it’s really about the gesture more than anything. 

You could offer them a discount on their next service or a refund on the one they’ve just had. It’s a small loss, yes, but will be well worth their repeated business. 

It’ll also benefit you in ways that you don’t even see. A huge part of marketing is still done through word of mouth. People will always trust their friends’ opinions more than online reviews. 

You probably know this from personal experience; how often have you been put off by a company because somebody you know had a bad experience with them? And how often have you asked friends or family for recommendations. 

Everybody does it. And when your business comes up in conversation, you want people to talk about how helpful, and empathetic you were when you dealt with their complaint. 

Building a solid reputation is something you can’t buy. It happens through good behaviour and treating your customers right. 

Review your process

Finally, when all’s said and done, review your process. 

Find out what went wrong and do what you can to make sure it doesn’t happen again. You could even let the customer know that you’re doing just that, and thank them for bringing the issue to your attention (they’ll love that). 

If you treat customer complaints like this, then you’re actually turning their negative feedback into an opportunity to improve your business. The customer is usually (not always) right, so listen to what they have to say. 

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