No matter what your company offers, people will complain.

It’s just that simple.

If you sell a product that product will occasionally fail. If you sell a service that service will occasionally be subpar. If you give someone a free house they will have to pay taxes. If you establish world peace you will be forcing millions in the defense industry out of a job.

Your company will never be all things to all people. And it shouldn’t strive to be. A company that offers everything offers nothing.

If a person reaches out to complain and they are at least moderately reasonable don’t ignore them (if a person reaches out and acts like all of the puppies in the world will just die if you don’t give them something for free, this post might not apply).

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“we’d like to talk to customer service please”

Now, I don’t expect every company to acknowledge the complaints of every Tom, Dick, and Harry that tweets about it but I do expect the company to make an effort. Aside from those that are vitriolic and not constructive, each complaint about your company or service should be addressed and handled with care.

And that doesn’t necessarily mean bending over backwards to give the customer what they want or appeasing their every need. We’ve talked before about finding the right customer for your product. Sometimes helping a person with a complaint is as simple as realizing that they aren’t the right customer for your product and helping them to understand why. There’s no one size fits all solution to every customer complaint but there is an overarching strategy that can help guide your responses to each individual complaint in a way that is constructive for both you and your customer.

How to Respond to Customer Complaints

Take Down Your Defenses

Your company is not perfect. Go ahead and read that again if you need to. Maybe even read it a third time just for fun.

Your company was built by humans and humans are not perfect. Your company is run by at least some humans (although we have our suspicions about Tom in IT). Humans — it turns out — make quite a few mistakes. Do not ever think that your company is impervious to complaints or concerns. Your company is not above it and if you act as though it is you will find yourself in murky waters.

If you aren’t willing to skip defensiveness when reacting to customer complaints than you might as well just stop reading here. The customer will know when you’re defensive. The customer will wonder why you’re defensive. And the customer will dislike you even more than when they complained. Oh and then they’ll tweet about your horrible response. You cannot possibly respond to customer complaints effectively if you approach them defensively.

Be Human

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Image via Help Scout

No one wants a canned response. Your customer wants to be heard and spewing the party line at them isn’t going to make them feel that someone is listening. It’s going to make them feel that no one is listening and that the person on the other end is only hearing just enough before they get ready to read their templated response. Even if you have a line of people complaining about the same exact thing you should find a way to personalize each response in a way that lets the customer know they aren’t just like every other customer.

This goes as much for social media as it does for in-person interaction. Too many times I’ve watched as a company sends a blanket response to 100 tweets in a row following a public mishap. Nothing about that looks genuine. I’m glad you took the time to craft that original response tweet, but it’s just not enough. I’m not saying it will be easy to respond to each complaint differently; however, I am saying it’s worth it to take the time to treat each with the care that is needed.

wpid american airlines How to Respond to Customer Complaints
it might be time to rethink that automated social response strategy



I don’t believe that the customer is always right, but that doesn’t mean your company is above an apology. Look, I don’t believe that my husband is always right, but I’ll apologize to him if he feels I’ve wronged him somehow (and I swear I won’t roll my eyes this time). Apologizing even when you don’t feel something is your fault or that the person took what you did the wrong way doesn’t mean giving in. It means acknowledging that good intentions aren’t enough.

The way that you built an item to work may not be the way it actually works. The service you offered on your website may be interpreted by a customer differently than you planned. Apologize — and mean it. My husband knows the difference between an apology to end the conversation and a sincere, constructive apology. You don’t have to understand your customers (or your husband) to acknowledge they’re unhappy and apologize for the slight. You just have to care.


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Image via Help Scout

It’s one thing to make your customer feel heard but it’s another thing entirely to take actual action on their complaint. It’s easy to solve that one person’s problems, wrap the solution up with a nice little bow, and mosey on about your day. It’s not easy to step back and consider what went wrong for this customer and how you can make sure it doesn’t happen again. That’s the long game and it’s where many companies fail. It may seem like more effort in the short term to put energy into a solution for one person’s concerns. But, it will help you immensely down the road because if customers are continuously unhappy they will be more likely to churn and never do business with you again. It’s a long-term, sustainable strategy to avoid the same problems over and over again.

Your support team doesn’t want to answer the same problems over and over again (trust me) and they shouldn’t have to. You should be learning from the complaints to help your company grow. The complaints aren’t separate from your company, they are your company. You don’t have to provide an extensive solution to every minute complaint but you should consider the bigger picture. Where are the complaints coming from? How are they related? Where is the disconnect between what you offer and what the customer gets? There is so much more to every single complaint than an automatic tweet reply with a link to your company’s FAQ page.

With an open mind you can gain insight from complaints.

Prospect to Evangelist Webinar How to Respond to Customer Complaints
this kid is going to tell all his friends about your great customer service

Your first instinct might be to roll your eyes at every complaint (and I won’t tell anyone if you want to secretly maintain that routine), yet consider making the second step in your routine the one that offers some guidance. A company should never assume that anyone that complains isn’t worth their time. Customers who complain are 2 times more likely to share their bad service experience than they are to talk about a positive one. However, when you resolve a complaint in the customers’ favor, they will do business again with you 70% of the time. Consider all of the people that used your product or your service and simply walked away because it just wasn’t worth it. If people are complaining, for the most part it’s because they care. They want to use what your company is offering, they just can’t make it work it for them. If you offer them a solution they’re more likely to stay with your company. If you offer personal assistance they’re more likely to feel brand loyalty. These are the customers that have experienced more than just the product, they’ve experienced the company itself and know you better than anybody. And quite often these are the customers that become your company evangelists.

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