How to deal with a customer complaint effectively: my top 3 tips

Illustration of person working on a laptop with the title of the blog about dealing with customer complaints

Answering questions about your products and keeping customers happy can be tricky. But there are simple things you can do right from the start that will help you deal with a customer complaint more effectively.

I have written before about getting great testimonials from satisfied customers. But things will not always go according to plan. For small businesses, having a dedicated team of staff to manage customer relationships is not an option. As a small business owner, it is likely that you are involved directly in managing customer relationships.

Your customers will do some of the most effective marketing for your business. It is important to manage your relationship with them effectively.

I have sifted through seven years of my own experience speaking to customers, to pick my top three tips that will help you maintain good customer relationships and deal with a complaint effectively.

Tip#1: Don’t start with what you cannot do.

A customer will know what they expect you to do to fix an issue. However, that does not always fit the way your run your business. It is tempting to jump into why you cannot do something for them, when their request appears unreasonable.

The key to dealing with a customer complaint effectively is to recognise the result they are going for and find the best way that you can help them get there.

A frustrated customer is simply trying to get to the resolution they need as soon as they can. Instead of focusing on the steps to get there (for example, some refund that you cannot give) focus on giving them an acceptable alternative to get what they want (for example, a generous discount on another of your products that will fit their needs better).

Tip #2: Don’t put the blame on the customer.

When something has gone wrong, the customer may be feeling a lot of very real, unpleasant emotions. They may feel disappointed or even cheated.

Taking the time to say (or write out) a genuine apology can go a long way.

I am going to assume that bad customer service is not part of your overall business strategy – so make sure the customer knows that. Consider starting any response to a customer in this way:

  • Recognise the issue they have reported,
  • offer an honest apology,
  • and remind them that they are a valued customer.

Tip #3: Don’t leave them guessing when they’ll hear back from you.

If you look at a complaints policy, you will notice that a big part of dealing with a customer complaint is giving the customer an idea of how long the process will take. That is because communication is especially important when it comes to managing complaints.

You should always let your customer know when they can expect a response, so they are not left guessing when or if they will hear back from you. That is one of the best ways to deal with a customer complaint effectively.

Check out this Complaints Policy sample by NCVO (The National Council for Voluntary Organisations): Complaints Policy Sample Doc

This document lays out in simple terms what the customer can do if they wish to complain, and how many days it will take the business to respond. At the end of the document, it lets the customer know what to do if they are not happy with the resolution of the complaint.

This document is just a guide. If you have an e-commerce business, you will want to look at specific guidance for your sector. In any case, you should make sure that the customer understands how you will deal with their complaint and when they will be hearing back from you. Keeping customers informed will make it easier to deal with their complaint.


These are my top three tips for dealing customer complaints effectively.

What do you think? Has your experience dealing with customer complaints taught you anything else?

Improving your customer communications

If you are looking for ways to engage your customers more but don’t know where to start, give me a nudge! I will support you to review the way you communicate with your customers, or simply give you some advice to increase your confidence on the matter.

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