10 ways to successfully handle your unhappy customers

Every business sells something to a consumer whether it be e-commerce, service industry, government etc., there is always a consumer on the other side of the interaction.

When selling a service or product you’re inevitably going to have an unhappy customer at some point.

Complaints are good because it means your customer is giving you the time and chance to retain them as a consumer:


Did you know that only 4% of dissatisfied consumers actually complain?


Understanding Customers” by Ruby Newell-Legner

So how do you effectively deal with an unhappy customer and ultimately retain them as a loyal customer?

  1. Respond don’t react

    As difficult as it can be you must put your emotions aside. It’s understandable that business owners and loyal team members take complaints personally but it is how you respond to them which can make your business better. It is important to note that when you do respond to a complaint – be careful not to come across as patronizing. There is nothing more infuriating as a consumer when you have someone on the other side of the conversation being nice and thinking they are saying all the right things because that is what they have learnt in a 101 customer handling course and it comes across treating you like you’re a child.

  2. Listen Actively

    It’s no coincidence that Listen & Silent are spelled with the same letters. It is also no coincidence that we were born with 2 ears and 1 mouth – listen twice as much as you talk. To listen actively, you must provide your full attention to your customer and pay attention to what they are actually saying.

  3. Use the customer name in a genuine manner

    Your customer wants to know that you know who they are. By using their name discreetly and in a genuine manner, it reassures your customer that you have been paying attention and know who they are. There is no need to go overboard in the name usage, it is vital to open the conversation with the name, close the conversation with the name and use it at least once but no more than twice within the conversation.

  4. Make notes

    Acknowledging and making reference to what your customer has said is very important. It allows you to control the conversation, and it also tells the customer that you are listening and you care. Don’t be a hero and think you can remember everything. Take notes! If you are dealing with the consumer face to face, first ask for permission to make notes before you begin to write. This will make them feel comfortable and at ease, knowing that you are taking their feedback seriously.

  5. Compensation

    Compensation does not always have to be about giving something away. It’s about bettering the customer’s experience and retaining them as a consumer. Some of my most valued customers who I have built the strongest relationships with have come from a customer complaint which resulted in not giving away the house. Know your product or service, know what you’re willing to provide as compensation for certain issues and have confidence in the way you deliver your message.

  6. Hold yourself, team and business accountable

    There are plenty of articles out there which tell people the best ways to complain to get something for free. These people you can typically pick up straight away as the complaint is textbook. Although you still need to be cognizant of all complaints and make sure you take every complaint seriously by holding accountability and investigating the issues presented. Avoid challenging the complaint and always offer follow up if you need the time to look into an issue.

  7. Be flexible

    If you don’t have a solution right away, consider how you can make the customer content for the short-term. Sometimes it is as easy as communicating with the consumer, other times people want something, whether it be a free coffee or lunch. Again, if you know your product or service and what you are willing to negotiate on, this will make the conversation win-win for both parties.

  8. Follow up as quickly as possible

    If follow-up has been promised, ensure you are prompt in your follow up. Not only is it awkward getting back to an angry or upset client or customer days after the initial complaint, but it also shows a lack of urgency and care for their feedback.

  9. Say thank you and send a follow-up email.

    It is always important to thank the consumer for their time at the end of the conversation. If you have an email address available, it is always advisable to send a follow-up email, apologizing for their inconvenience and thank them for their time. It is also best to recap the complaint with the outcome and solution of the conversation. An email is also a good idea as the consumer will then have all your contact details if they don’t have so already.

  10. Move on

    Don’t dwell on the complaint. You can’t take it personally. If you have a team, you should have a way where your team are empowered to make decisions to handle a customer complaint and a reporting system where everyone in the team is informed. Complaints allow for your business to improve as they usually highlight a glitch in the system. Take note, fix the problem, move on.

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