Not every complaint points to a valid issue. Not every piece of criticism contains insight. But they all come from your customers, whose approval is imperative to the growth of your business. 

Now more than ever, public image matters. Social media and the internet make it easy for customers to voice their dissatisfaction and use the reviews of others to determine where their money is best spent. 

Regardless of how well you run your business, there will always be the occasional negative feedback. It’s how you deal with it that counts. With the right strategies and tools, you can turn even the worst situation into an opportunity. Here are 11 tips on how to handle customer complaints. 

Stay Calm and Listen

Let’s start with the basics. 

There will certainly be times when it’s easier said than done, but you should always stay calm when dealing with a complaint. It helps to remember that you probably aren’t at fault for the issue being raised, and that the customer is likely highlighting previously unforeseen room for improvement. 

Moreover, you (at least in that moment) are the face of your company. Your reaction will determine what the customer will say about the business when they leave and whether they’ll ever come back. Your best bet is to listen. Ask them to explain the problem and simply let them vent without judgement. This will naturally calm them down. 

Show genuine interest in solving the problem and try to see it from their perspective. Don’t forget to tell customers that their feedback is appreciated. 

Look for Value

A complaint – even when it’s packed into a raging ball of fury – should never be dismissed as nothing more than a sum of its parts. There’s almost always some genuinely useful insight to consider. Keeping this in mind can provide a helpful boost of enthusiasm when it comes to solving problems with customers. 

Record and Analyze

Okay, so you have some insights. Now what?

It’s a good idea to start collecting meaningful complaints and putting them into categories. For instance, a software developer can compile feature requests to determine what should be prioritized in the next update. You can also build on the information by using it to create a survey. The point is to derive as much value as possible from the data. 

Know Thy Customer

There are different types of complaining customers. Some are meek and conflict averse, leaving it up to you to inquire and get to the heart of the issue. Others are more aggressive and require a firm politeness to move past. Then there are chronic complainers, who may test your patience a little. 

Consider writing up a list of “customer archetypes” with explanations on how to deal with each one. This is particularly useful if you have new service reps who aren’t sure on how to handle certain people. 

Blame Appropriately

It goes without saying that aggression should be avoided when dealing with customers in any situation. But more passive forms of aggression aren’t always easy to keep at bay. 

Deferment of blame is a common example that manifests itself in statements like “I’m sorry to hear about your problem.” These dismissive phrases tend to only infuriate the customer more.

Apologies are an important part of customer service, but the blame should be pointed in an honest direction. If the company is at fault, then say so. If the customer is to blame, then apologize for the problem without forgetting to provide a solution. 

Transfer with Reason

Customers need to be assured that their time isn’t being wasted. Telling them to hold while you transfer their call is the opposite of that. You need to let them know why they must wait for their problem to be solved by someone else. 

A simple “I’m going to set you up with an expert on this type of thing to get this sorted out right away.” will suffice. 

Ask Questions

Being genuinely curious about the customer’s problem shows that you care. However, not all questions have a positive outcome. Let’s say that you’ve just addressed a complaint and you’re ending the conversation. Which of the following options would you choose?

  1. Are there any other problems?
  2. Is there anything else I can assist with?

The second option conveys that you’re willing to address anything else they need, while the first option is more akin to asking for a negative outcome. Number two is the way to go. 

Value Your Time

A customer with a feature request probably won’t mind if their email is answered the next day. A customer with a complaint wants a response yesterday. Make sure that they’re the priority. 

There are several ways to improve your response times, including setting up automated (canned) replies to common issues. And if you do happen to reach inbox zero, a little follow-up message or two can make all the difference. 


On that note, don’t forget to verify whether the resolution to a complaint was successful. There could be a customer on the other side who’s still pulling their hair out. Knowing that the problem is solved gives you the confidence to move on. 

Show Genuine Respect

Customers want you to speak to them like regular people. They don’t want to be treated like corporate drones. 

To show respect is to show that two human beings are taking part in the conversation. That said, there’s a fine line between a friendly casual exchange and pandering through pleasantry. A complaining customer doesn’t want happiness shoved down their throat. Keep it calm without being obnoxiously bubbly and cheery. 

Leave a Lost Cause Be

At the end of the day, there’s only so much you can do. Exceptional service can win a customer back, but not always. When an unhappy customer already has one foot out the door, rather let them have it their way. 

Keep the above information in mind when developing your strategy for dealing with customer complaints. Knowing how to respond will go a long way in helping you efficiently and effectively resolve any issues.