The 3 Ways to Handle Customer Complaints

The 3 Ways to Handle Customer Complaints

It doesn’t matter how good you are—some customers will be unhappy. If you’re lucky, they’ll complain.

That may sound odd, but remember that 95 percent of dissatisfied customers never complain in a way you can find it. So the five percent that do complain are doing you a favor, for two reasons:

  1. They tell you where you can improve
  2. They give you a chance to do something about their unhappiness

The second one is what we’ll cover today.

When customers complain, I see too many businesses fretting about whose fault it is that the customer is unhappy. That internal deconstruction is valid, eventually, but not at first. Because what’s done is DONE. The customer perceives that you failed to meet or exceed their expectations in one or more ways, period.

How do YOU handle complaints?

The FIRST and ONLY thing to worry about immediately is to figure out what you’re going to do about it. And here, you have three (and only three) options.

Option 1: Ignore or Dismiss the Complaint

Sounds unreasonable, but research I included in Hug Your Haters found that one-third of all customer complaints are ignored. Disturbingly, the venues where complaints are most commonly ignored are the public venues: social media, review sites, and forums.

Option 2: Respond with Argument or Malice

Again, this sounds like a less than ideal option in the abstract, but it’s remarkable to me how many tales I see of businesses slamming unhappy customers. This probably feels pretty good in the moment, and may even generate some cheerleaders. But I do not believe it is a sound customer service approach  – in social media or elsewhere – to make the aggrieved customer the enemy, even if the customer is an indefensible knob.

There is always oxygen on the high road.

HRD Software is a company that produces ham radio software, and cannot find the high road with a map, compass, GPS, and a Sherpa guide.

In a truly remarkable piece of blame redirection, the firm intentionally “bricked” a customer’s software, making his system wholly inoperable. Why? He left a negative review of the software on a forum called eHam, months earlier.

The company’s response:

“If you remove the eHam review, which was blatantly false, we will remove the blacklist from you call. You are not buying software, you are buying your callsign’s access to the software. the so called bug you reported is not one in HRD, but one in the CAT commands of the FT­3000 radio, which have been verified with yaesu. Again refer to section 8 of the TOS, which was written by our Attorney.”

Yikes. The ham radio community did not like that. At. All. A thread on the forum racked up 37 PAGES of negative comments about HRD Software, before the owner finally jumped in with an apology, setting off 20 more pages of back-and-forth mea culpa.

TechDirt has great coverage about this one, if you’d like to see the blow-by-blow.

Option 3: Do Something About It, ASAP

Frustrated Tesla driver and digital influencer Loic Le Meur tweeted at Tesla founder Elon Musk, complaining about long lines at northern California superchargers. (superchargers are public “electricity stations” where Tesla drivers can charge their car in about one hour, for free)

Musk himself responds in 20 minutes. He acknowledges the issue, and promises action.

Six days later, Tesla published a blog post outlining a new policy that charges owners 40 cents per minute for “idle time” if their car is parked in a charging station after it is 100% full of electrons.


A global company creates and institutes a policy change impacting its entire customer base stemming from a customer complaint on Twitter, and does it inside of a week.

That’s accountability. That’s focus on effect, not cause. And that’s taking customer complaints for what they really are: the petri dish for improving operations.

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