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Handling customer complaints. It’s a problem that has faced business owners since the first business opened its doors. From angry phone calls to head office to the more modern venting on social media, any business that fails to address how it handles complaints is making a mistake it might not survive.

Official complaints, or even angry rants on Twitter, can ruin your day. Running a business is not always easy. And while the high points make you go to bed with a smile on your face, you also have to be prepared for the doom and gloom when a person is unhappy with the products and services they received. 

Customer complaints come with the territory and responsibility of running your own business. But you don’t have to dread them to the point where you don’t pick up the phone or read the comments on your social media pages.

Don’t let customer complaints get the better of you and your business operations. You can successfully diffuse situations and resolve issues. Here are nine important strategies to employ when handling customer complaints.

Have a customer complaint plan

Create a plan of action and teach your staff the policies for handling complaints. They should be able to handle difficult customers with politeness and respect. They should fully address and resolve complaints and always follow up with the customer to ensure the right actions have been taken. This is one of the most important steps of delivering customer satisfaction that resonates enough to get an unhappy customer back into your store.

If you don’t have a plan in place, every member of your team will deal with complaints differently. One bad day is all it takes for one of your team to escalate a problem into a PR nightmare. With a clear, respectful and positive plan to follow, those incidents will be more easily avoidable.

Keep a record of complaints

Make notes of all the information given to you by the customer. It’s easy to turn a deaf ear to their words and offer a discount to quiet them down. But there may be a serious problem with your services or products you haven’t addressed. The information they give can sometimes make your company even better.

Never forget that although it’s never nice to get complaints, the fact is that they can be extremely useful. They’re a sign that something about your business isn’t working at 100%. Perhaps it’s your product, your supply chain or your prices. You then have the opportunity to learn from your customers’ complaints and improve the relevant areas, strengthening your business.

Always engage with customer complaints

Respond to every complaint to your business, no matter how small the issue may be. Taking the time and care to answer complaints shows the customer you want to know about their opinions, and they may remain a loyal customer. People will always tell friends and family about problems they had with a business, but they will also be quick to share their positive experiences.

An important factor to remember here is that by listening and engaging, you can more easily find a satisfying response and conclusion to the complaint. It’s one thing to deliver great service without a complaint, but to turn a frustrated customer into an extremely happy one can turn a never-again customer into a lifelong brand advocate. And that’s a smart way to help your business grow.

Take responsibility

Always take responsibility for every complaint against your company. It’s easy to let anger take control of your actions and words as you respond negatively to comments that you feel are unfair. Keep calm, always apologise for inconveniencing the customer, and make every effort to rectify the situation.

It’s tempting to blame customers when they complain. Perhaps they didn’t read the product description correctly and what they thought they were buying isn’t something you sell. Or they arrange delivery days only to leave the house and be unavailable when your products are shipped. Instead of trying to allocate blame, aim to rectify and resolve. If you want to plan for the future of your business, taking responsibility for complaints is one of the first steps.

Monitor complaints continuously

Review every complaint with your staff. Show them what the customers are complaining about and listen to the employees’ responses. This open communication allows you to get all viewpoints about the situation and decide the best way to manage staff or processes in the future. Your employees may bring something important to light that you were not aware of.

One of the big mistakes that many business owners make is not listening to their teams. It’s easy to get lost in the office when there are mountains of paperwork to get done, staff rotas to plan, and a cash flow forecast to manage. That means those business owners aren’t on the front lines or down on the factory floor.

Your ground-floor workers may have insights into where improvements can be made, especially when it comes to working processes. Always talk to your team about customer complaints, and work with them to build a better team and find solutions.

Stand up for your business and team

Dealing with customer complaints is rarely, if ever, fun or enjoyable. But if things take a turn, remember that you should never have to tolerate aggression of any kind. Verbal abuse, someone getting into your personal space, or even being physically threatening, are things that no worker should ever have to put up with. Don’t accept that “the customer is always right” if they are reacting in ways that make you feel uncomfortable.

You can have belligerent or aggressive customers removed from your store. You can block angry or spiteful customers on social media and let them vent their anger elsewhere. Being called names or being threatened with violence is not acceptable at any time, no matter how serious the complaint is. If you are met with angry or intimidating customers with a serious complaint, stay professional and warm, and start looking for solutions. You may even turn that anger into happiness! 

Avoid getting emotional

Nobody likes being told they’ve done a bad job, and that’s what customer complaints are. The problem for human teams facing real complaints is that they get emotional, and that’s rarely a good thing. So whether you have a friendly older man making an in-person complaint in your store or a disgruntled shopper on Facebook angrily ranting about the poor quality of your customer service, keep your emotions at bay.

Dealing with customer complaints is about staying calm and looking for resolutions that will satisfy all involved. In some cases, there simply won’t be a resolution that both you and the unhappy customer will be satisfied with. That’s ok. You can’t win them all. Just don’t let your emotions get the better of you.

Follow up on complaints

Once you have apologised for whatever caused the complaint, provided a resolution, and said goodbye to the customer, sit back and think about it. What else could you have done to improve the complaint process? One of the most important steps in the customer complaint process should be to reach out some time after the incident to get feedback.

This lets the customer know you haven’t forgotten what happened and that you’re trying to improve your business. They have given you valuable feedback, after all. By reaching out, you show the customer you care about their experience with your business. And if more complaints follow, that’s just more of an opportunity to find out what’s wrong with your customer complaints procedure!

Move on

It’s far too easy to dwell on an unhappy client. You can serve 99 completely happy customers, but it’s the one angry and unhappy customer you remember at the end of the day. No business is invulnerable to complaints; every business will get them. After all, you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

Of course, if you get nothing but complaints (or a higher percentage of customer complaints than you do happy clients), that’s a sign of a serious problem, and dwelling on them is a good idea. But if you’re a normal business with a low level of customer complaints, remember not to let them get you down. Instead, use them to formulate solutions and strategies to avoid the same issues arising again.

Learn to handle customer complaints

The way you deal with customer complaints can make the difference between losing a customer and keeping one. The next time a customer comes to you with a complaint, take the time to listen and try to resolve it. Look at every complaint as an opportunity to review your business procedures. 

Sometimes you may have to make drastic changes to create a more positive interaction with your customers while promoting your brand. Make every customer complaint a priority and take it as free advice that you can use to create a better customer experience. Handling customer complaints efficiently and effectively should be a byword for your business.

Check out our customer service guide for small businesses; it’s full of practical advice to help you build a customer service policy for your business. Customer service is more important than ever and can be the dividing line between a business that grows and one that stops in its tracks. 

Don’t forget, if you’re getting complaints and issuing refunds for subpar, unexpected or broken products, your finances will start getting complicated. That can lead to further issues, which is why you always need to keep your books balanced. That’s where Big Red Cloud’s accounting software comes in. 

More than simply making sure that your accounts are right, get in touch with the team today to find out how we can turn your finances into a resource that can help your business grow. You can even get a free trial of our cloud-based accounting software and find out how we take the headache out of brand growth and keeping those books balanced.

Marc O'Dwyer

Marc O'Dwyer

After completing a Graduate program in Marketing, Marc’s impressive sales career began at Allied Irish Banks, Pitney Bowes and Panasonic where he received numerous Irish and European sales performance awards and consistently exceeded targets and expectations.

In 1992, Marc’s entrepreneurial spirit led him to set up his own business, Irish International Sales (IIS). Initially, this company was a reseller for Take 5 Accounts and Payroll software. Within four years, IIS became the largest reseller of Take 5 in Ireland, acquiring four other Take 5 resellers.

He also found time to set up two mobile phone shops under the Cellular World brand and a web design company offering website design services for small businesses.

In 2001, he bought the majority share in a small Irish software business, Big Red Book. At that time, the company was losing money. The company became profitable within two months, and Marc then acquired a payroll company to compliment Big Red Books Accounting products. In 2003, IIS were appointed as Channel Partners with SAP for their new SME product, SAP Business One. Marc sold his Take 5 business and concentrated on developing this new market for SAP As a result, by 2007, IIS was recognised as the largest Channel Partner for SAP in EMEA (Europe Middle East and Africa). In 2008, the IIS Sales Manager bought the Company from Marc in an MBO.

He launched Big red cloud in June 2012, the online version of big red book, to date the company successfully converts 59% of trials into sales and the number of customers is growing rapidly.

Marc continues to run both Big Red Book and Big Red Cloud which now support 75,000 businesses. He is a very keen sportsman, having played rugby for 20 years, represented Leinster at under 16 and under 20 levels, and league squash with Fitzwilliam Lawn Tennis Club for 10 years. Marc has competed in 11 Marathons, including the London and Boston Marathons, and has completed several Triathlons and Half Ironman races. He has also completed six Ironman Races in Austria(x2), Frankfurt (Germany), Nice (France) , Mallorca (Spain) and Copenhagen (Denmark)