How to Handle Customer Complaints

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine and fellow entrepreneur had her very first customer complaint.

Leasa is an incredible woman – she runs her business, Little Freckles, from home while also raising a young family and she always seems so energetic and bubbly.  I am in awe of her pretty much 24/7.  But when this happened, she fell to bits.  She told me she freaked out and felt like just shutting the whole business down and running away.

It was her very first complaint, up until this point she had only ever had amazing things said about her and her wonderful products.  The cause for the complaint was nobody’s fault really, it was a misunderstanding on how the product should be used that lead to a spillage.  But the facts were kind of irrelevant, it was how it made her feel that caused the big drama.

It’s Not A Bad Thing!

Customer complaints are a part of running a business.  Hopefully, if you are doing things right, you won’t get them too often.  But to think you will just never have a complaint is silly – they will happen sometimes, and that’s okay.  The important thing is how you deal with them.

 I told my friend that actually the complaint should be viewed as a good sign – her little business was growing and reaching out to people who didn’t know her and weren’t ‘friends of friends’, her products were reaching the real world and real life customers who didn’t know a thing about the background of the company – it’s a sign of growth.

Customer Complaints are actually an opportunity to create an even better situation than if there had been no complaint in the first place.  Negative situations turned into good situations are what breed loyalty and make customers form a connection to your brand.  If something has gone wrong and you do everything in your power to fix it and show the customer that they are important to you, the customer will feel valued and is much more likely to remember you.

I used to work in the hospitality industry and there was a statistic that I heard time and time again in various training sessions.  It stated that:

  • If a customer has a good experience with you – they are likely to tell one person about it
  • If a customer has a bad experience with you – they are likely to tell three people about it
  • If a customer has a bad experience that is rectified and turned into a good experience – they are likely to tell ten people about it.

That’s not to say you should go causing problems just so you can fix them!  But hopefully it shows you that the world is not ending if you have a complaint of a bad review.

So now that the panic is over, what should you do?

The hardest part of dealing with complaints is that you have to keep cool and have a level head, even when people are being outrageously rude to you.  There’s a weird thing where customers often seem to forget that they are talking to a real person, they no longer see you as a human and think it’s acceptable to just tear into you with the most shocking abuse.  You would be stunned at some of the disgusting names I have been called over the years – because of a cupcake!   But no matter how rude they are or how wrong their logic is, you have to just try to rise above it.  Easier said than done, I know.

Reply to your customer’s complaint as promptly as possible, don’t put it off as this will

a) rile them further and
b) build it up in your mind

Respond to the facts

Read their comments carefully and pick out the facts of what their issue is.  Respond only to facts, don’t get tied up in the emotional statements, all you can do is deal with the facts and the actual problems.


If a mistake has been made on your part then acknowledge this and apologise.  An apology goes a long way and often will make a customer stop in their tracks and realise they are being irrational.


If a mistake has not been made, or if the complaint is due to a misunderstanding, try to explain this to the customer in a non patronising way.  Be clear but kind.  I know better than most how tempting it is to be a little passive aggressive here – try not to!

Make an Offer

More often than not, what people are looking for is actually just acknowledgement.  You will always get the chancers who are just trying for a freebie, but 9 times out of 10, people just want to know you are listening to them and that you care about their custom.

If you can, make some gesture to ease the situation for them.  If you have made a mistake then offering a full or partial refund, depending on the situation, may cost you money initially but will save you losing money in the long term if it stops them from complaining further/leaving bad reviews.

If a mistake has not been made but you are able to offer some small token to make the customer feel better, then do.  For example you might offer them a voucher for a small amount off their next purchase, they feel heard and you will pretty much guarantee that they will come back to you to use their voucher.  It’s win-win.

Don’t Rise to the Bait

Hopefully, by this point the situation will be resolved and you will have a happy customer again. But occasionally people are just looking for a fight.  It’s sad to think that some people really do get kicks out of venting abuse at small businesses, but everyone has got to have a hobby, right?  If this is the case just try your best not to rise to the bait.  Try to think like a robot and be courteous and polite, and don’t let what they are saying affect you.

Don’t Take It Personally

It isn’t easy to let complaints just bounce off of you, but you need to know that it’s not personal.  When a customer complains it is not a personal attack on you, though they may word it like one.  It’s hard to disconnect when the business is your baby and you have put blood, sweat and tears into growing it, but if you can, try to remember that this is a sign that your baby is growing up and you’re starting to play in the big leagues now.  Complaints do get easier and in time you will grow a thicker skin.

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