Turn complaints into excellent customer service; A 'how-to' guide

I'm always amazed when I talk to people from other businesses and they're complaining about some of their customers. I think to myself: "Whoa! Have you ever thought where you'd be without clients? You wouldn't even have a business."


Now let's be honest. The old saying of ‘the customer is always right' can be difficult to swallow! Some customers can be downright unreasonable. But here's the thing. They want your product or your service - they want to be your customer.

Excellent customer service can be the easiest thing in the world when things are going to plan. But things WILL go belly up somewhere along the line - after all, we're only human. It's how you react to the negative stuff that defines your business - and gets people thinking: "Wow! That was great customer service. I'll definitely go back to them!"

What to do when customers complain

People complain either because something's gone wrong - or they think it has. I always see it as an opportunity to address a possible deficiency in what we do, or as a safety check that what we're doing is actually right.

I'm well aware that receiving a complaint can be difficult to hear, especially if it's from an angry customer who you feel is in the wrong. When this happens - and it has - I try to keep calm and remember that there are plenty of other businesses - my competitors - the customer could take their business to. If I deal with the situation well, this could even be an opportunity to gain a loyal customer who'll be an advocate for my business.

In my experience, as long as you explain clearly and honestly why you believe your business is in the right, they'll appreciate it. They might not agree or necessarily be happy with your answer, but they sure will appreciate the candor and the fact they've been given a fair hearing.

There are even times when, upon hearing my customer's viewpoint, I realize that their annoyance is from a misunderstanding or miscommunication, so it's actually a helpful exercise as you can bet that if one person has misunderstood something - an offer, your website, your terms and conditions - someone else will too.

So, what would I do if I found myself with angry customers? I think we've all heard one or two customer service horror stories, so I've given some thought to what I would do if I were in these companies' shoes…

  • Always to be up front and honest. If a guarantee or warranty with a product or service, for example, doesn't cover everything, make sure people know it up front. Don't bury it in a tiny font hoping people are unlikely to see it. As well as being a legal requirement, you're opening yourself up to some bad publicity. Treat customers like the sensible people they are. Customers want to know what they're not getting as well as what they are - and appreciate it when it's clear and transparent. You're also far less likely to trigger phone and email complaints, leaving your workers to get on with the core business - making your customers happy.
  • Admit to your mistakes early and honestly. Social media can be both angel and demon. Nearly half of consumers in the US use social media to air their grievances1. Bad mistakes can very quickly go viral, and while it's a touch unfair that most happy endings don't seem to get quite as much traction (though can still net very large publicity), it's a great way of getting messages across immediately. Making time to monitor your social media is always a good idea. Don't forget the apology - and make sure it's sincere.
  • Don't promote a culture where employees are unable to make decisions. In my experience it's a sure fire way to end up with terrible customer service. Promoting a culture where my employees are empowered to make decisions has worked well for me. Of course, there are times when my customer service people get it wrong. When this happens, I always back them up (trust is key in all of this) while helping to sort the issue out with the customer. I can then use these examples to help with ongoing training. Win. Win.

Still don't think excellent customer service is important?

If you're the sort who likes to back up your argument with some telling numbers, here are 10 nuggets courtesy of InsightSquared in 2015, who collated a number of customer service stats from a variety of sources.

5 facts about poor customer service

  1. 44% of U.S. consumers switch to a competitor following a poor customer service experience2
  2. 95% of customers share bad experiences with others1.
  3. 58% will never use the company again after a negative experience2.
  4. 42% switch provider because they are put off by rude or unhelpful staff2.
  5. 39% of customers avoid a particular vendor for 2+ years after a bad experience1.

5 facts about excellent customer service

  1. 88% are influenced by online customer service reviews when making buying decisions1.
  2. 50% use a company more frequently after a positive customer experience2.
  3. 52% of consumers have made more purchases from a company after having a good customer service experience1.
  4. 40% of customers begin purchasing from a competitor because of their reputation for great customer service1.
  5. 33% of customers share good experiences with 5+ people1.

There are clear rewards for getting it right. And if you'd like to sense-check your own business, I found this great article on Forbes' website, ‘How to test your Customer Service culture in 10 seconds (and how to fix it if you fail)'.

Because actually, the customer IS always right: right to complain and right to expect a reasoned and honest response. After all they're critical for the continued success of your business.


1 Zendesk, "Providing Great Customer Service Through Social Media",https://www.zendesk.com/resources/customer-service-through-social-media, [accessed 09/14/16]

2 NewVoiceMedia, "The Multi-Billion Cost of Poor Customer Service", http://www.newvoicemedia.com/blog/the-multibillion-dollar-cost-of-poor-customer-service-infographic/ [accessed 09/14/16]