9 Tips On Handling Complaints

Let’s be honest. Complaints are a reality of business. Every company, no matter how great, responsive, or caring, receives some number of complaints – email, phone calls, letters, blog posts, etc. It’s inevitable; you can’t keep all people happy all the time.

Sometimes the complaint hurts. Sometimes it’s personal. It especially hurts when you have a different opinion of the situation, when you realize you’re dealing with perception. It’s frustrating.

So, what do you do?

Here’s my quick list:

1. Listen. Let the person at the other end of complaint be heard. Often this is their need; they need to get the frustration they have heard by someone.

2. Don’t immediately respond. Pause, take a deep breath. If on the phone, resist the urge to yell back. If on email or other web-based communication tools, resist sending the nasty reply. You want to remain calm and in charge or your emotions. This isn’t easy.

3. Listen Again. Separate what the person is complaining about from what they are now requesting. Handling the complaint and the request are two separate issues.

4. Escalate if necessary. Your business should already have in place a customer complaint escalation plan – a predetermined list of people to escalate to, internal procedures, and external expectations.

5. Don’t promise anything you can’t deliver. In the eyes of the person complaining, you’ve already failed. Don’t add fuel to the fire by promising something you can’t deliver.

6. If you need to research something or collaborate with others, say so. Similar to the tip above, don’t guess at an answer, find an accurate one. Don’t over commit yourself or others.

7. Clearly understand what the person wants now. Without agreeing to a request, clarify what the complainant wants after they issue their complaint. Do they want a refund, exchange, retroactive discount, ancillary products, an Apology, etc? You won’t know what options you have until you know what the person complaining feels is appropriate compensation for their pain. You’re not agreeing here, you want to understand.

8. Be careful responding in writing. Sad, but true. Written response can come back to you in a number of forms – legal action, posted on a website, etc. You never know. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write a letter, fax a message or send an email, it means you need to be careful in your language.

9. Look over your options. Now that you know what the complaint is and what the complainant wants, you have to decide how to respond. Compromise may be an option. Dependant upon the nature of the complaint, you may decide to do nothing. In all cases, be clear in your response and provide closure.

Okay, what did I leave out? What would you add to my list?

David Lee

David Lee

David is a serial entrepreneur, advisor, and investor. He has built and exited successful businesses and is now focused on investing. He holds a master's in business administration from the University of California, Berkeley.