How to Handle Customer Complaints: The 7 Do’s and Don’ts

Here are 7 ways to keep your customers happy and turn them into your best advocates.

Customer Complaints Files

As a business owner, you will at some point be at the receiving end of a customer complaint (and you may have been a customer with a complaint yourself).

The question isn’t whether you’ll get them (you will!) – the question is, how do you choose to handle the complaint, and yourself, in response.

This flipside take on what NOT to do highlights some of the most common things that we might be tempted to do when in the position of receiving a complaint. One or more (or even all!) of these might tempt you!

Let’s have a look at what NOT to do:

1. Get defensive. Protect your point of view at all costs. Don’t even try to see the customer’s point of view. Just stay entrenched in your position, and defend it to the hilt.

2. Get someone else to respond for you. When the complaint is directed to you, the best way to deflect it is to get one of your staff to respond for you. That way, you not only manage to convey the message that you’ve spread the word far and wide that the customer is a pain in the neck, it also gets you off the hook in taking responsibility for the reply. This approach also has the added benefit of making the customer feel unimportant.

3. Be demeaning or patronizing to the customer: make them feel small by proving them wrong, or even better, come at them from the lofty heights, where you are beyond reproach because only you see the bigger picture. Putting a spiritual slant on this (as in, you’re not being spiritual enough) is particularly effective if you know the customer is so inclined.

4. Refuse to provide a refund for services not delivered. If you’ve managed to erode the customer’s trust in you to the point where they don’t even want the services you’ve been contracted for, then by all means, keep the money! Don’t let ethical considerations get in the way of the additional income.

5. Justify your position with detailed explanations of why the customer is wrong. Get as detailed as possible, even mentioning times and dates, and particular correspondence if necessary, to make your point clear: you are right, the customer is wrong, and here’s the evidence to prove it!

6. Accuse the customer of taking things personally. This will really help to put them in their place: let them know that they are being irrational and therefore not appropriate. It’s their behavior that’s at fault!

7. Bend or be selective about the truth, or both. When you talk about what happened, be sure to pick out only the elements that serve you best. Or adjust the truth to suit your current needs in the situation.

Of course, there is the rare situation when a complaint is unjustified, and it is best dealt with in other ways.

Most of the time, though, the truth is that a customer complaint is a gift! You are getting insight about your business practices from your customer that they are not obligated to share with you. They’re giving you a view that you don’t usually get.

It’s a huge opportunity to see your business in a new way.

And even better, it’s an opportunity to do a little personal and work alchemy: to step fully into being the person you are meant to be, and by doing that, to create a big fan for you and your business!

Seize the opportunity – here’s what to do when you get a customer complaint:

1. Do all you can to see things from the customer’s point of view. Be curious – ask questions. Dig deep to find out where they are coming from.

2. Resist the temptation to defend yourself. You are not under attack – you are simply the receiver of information, information you would never have had about your business if your customer hadn’t spoken up. Value it, and yourself, and there will be no need to get defensive.

3. Treat your customer with respect, and honor their priorities and concerns. Most people just want to be heard. Do a good job of that, and most complaints end right there.

4. Respond directly, yourself, and without shame. Be a leader in your own company, and respond to complaints yourself, if they are addressed to you. Come from a place of valuing yourself, and what you do.

5. Be fair and even generous in refunding money, if the customer still wants that after you’ve responded respectfully. No amount of money kept will make up for the ill will generated by keeping money you did not earn. Money is only earned from happy, satisfied customers.

6. Take it all personally – You have a chance to show your customer who you really are, a person of integrity, honor, and forthrightness. Every day in your business, you have an opportunity to show your character, to lead. These situations can be challenging, and they are also opportunities to grow, to step into your true Self, and to create alchemy in your business.

7. Be scrupulous with the truth. Get clear about what actually happened. Then, stand in the truth. That way, there is no need to make ‘truth adjustments’ to build your strength.

That’s the way to keep your customers not just happy – it turns them into your best advocates!

Sure, there’s vulnerability in being that up front with your customer, but you will reap the rewards many-fold by being clear about who you are in the world. It’s totally worth it, for your business and yourself!

About the Author

Ursula Jorch mentors entrepreneurs starting their businesses and seasoned entrepreneurs in transition to create the work, the business of their dreams. Her coaching programs provide knowledge, support, clarity, inspiration, and a community of like-minded entrepreneurs to empower you to reach your goals.

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