Handling Customer Complaints … 8 Mistakes to Avoid

It’s not that they can’t find the solution, they can’t find the problem. And Chesterton knows. Does your business focus on handling customer complaints and the problems behind them? Handling customer complaints correctly is an incredibly important part of the overall service experience you deliver. If done with mistakes, well, it just compounds the negative customer experience.


Oftentimes, a negative experience that a customer has with your business can be salvaged and turned into an opportunity to win them over for life. But handled poorly, and you could lose customers for life.


But being able to handle negative feedback in a positive way takes plenty of practice. Your business can get a head start by  avoiding some common mistakes on interacting with customers in these less-than-ideal situations.

Below we’ll dive into some strategies on how to avoid these mistakes, but first we need to look at why handling these complaints incorrectly could be hurting your bottom line.


Related post: Deadly Mistakes that Destroy Employee Engagement


The Importance of Customer Complaints

Poorly handled customer complaints are one of the quickest ways you can destroy an otherwise stellar service reputation.


Consider the following statistics from the Jim Moran Institute and Lee Resources:


Resolve a complaint in the customer’s favor and they will do business with you again 70% of the time.


Up to 95% of customers will give you a second chance if you handle their complaint successfully and in a timely manner.


So while you won’t be able to satisfy every unhappy person who contacts you, the returns that your business may see from turning an initially bad customer service experience into a “win” are significant indeed.


So let’s discuss the mistakes to avoid:

mistakes to avoid
Mistakes to avoid.

Handling customer complaints … don’t complete your complaint understanding

There is a fine line between simply following up after handling a complaint and inadvertently inviting customers to complain even more.

Let’s look at the following two responses:

“Is there anything else wrong?”

“How else can I help you today?”


Asking a customer who just complained a leading, negative question such as #1 will lead to compounding the complaint and a mistake to avoid.


Conversely, inquiring how you may be able to further assist a customer lets them know that you are willing to stick it out if they have any other issues to address.


customer understanding
Work on customer understanding.

Handling customer complaints … slow response time

We often discuss some pretty strong cases for spending more time with your customers, but you saw the data above … complaints are a slightly different beast that greatly degrade when slowly responded to. Work to close issues as quickly as possible. Benefits increase from complaints being resolved quickly.


A customer leaving a feature request won’t sweat the fact that it took you a day to get back to them. However, unhappy customers want resolution yesterday, so you need to make responding to them a priority.


In almost every other instance I would encourage you to slow down your service, but in this case you need to make moves to right the wrong as soon as possible!


handling customer complaints examples … forgetting that complaints contain insight

In a recent article on Inc.com, Evernote CEO Phil Libin spoke about why he loves his angriest customers.


In particular, Libin addressed the need for balance between internal innovation and customer feedback, saying:


Customer feedback is great for telling you what you did wrong. It’s terrible at telling you what you should do next.


Don’t give action or

Please hold while we transfer you. Your call is very important to us.


Don’t you hate this response? While you’ll experience less of this problem when handling support via email, it’s still important to get people to the right employee quickly.


Never miss an opportunity to briefly explain to a customer why this transfer will be to their benefit. It’s hard to get any customer happy or excited about being transferred, but consider the two choices you have:


You are getting transferred. “Well, this stinks!”


You will be transferred to our ____ specialist who can better answer your question. “Well … okay, then!”


Without this relevant insertion, customers won’t know that you are actually trying to do the right thing.


Being too formal

Customers want to be treated with respect, but if you stop treating customers like regular people and start talking like a corporate stiff then they won’t interpret the interaction as genuine.


Research suggests that personalization is powerful when interacting with anyone, but especially with your customers.

Remember that you’re not speaking to the Queen of England, so refer to your “chat” with a customer rather than your “correspondence” with them. Remember to speak as if you were talking with an acquaintance. A little familiarity can go a long way toward getting customers on your side.


Don’t validate what you learn

Have you ever tried to contact customer service through an online form, and after you hit submit there wasn’t a single follow-up notification on whether or not action had taken place?


There is nothing worse, is there, because you don’t have a clue where your issue—and any hope of resolving it—stands.


The same thinking applies to resolving customer conflicts via email or phone. You want to be absolutely sure that the customer is clear on the resolution that occurred and that it met their needs. So if you’re not ending your responses with an inviting question to do more, then start now.


Handling customer complaints … never involve customers

You already know that you don’t have to ‘buy’ great customer experiences, so throwing freebies at customers over issues that could have been resolved in other ways is not a good business decision.


Instead, if a complaint is genuine and the mistake is on your end, involve customers in resolution decision-making through phrases such as, “What do you think would be fair?”


Yes, the barnacle customer will try to use this opportunity to take more than they deserve, but this language brings out the best in most people, and you’ll likely get asked for much less than you might have offered if you hadn’t solicited their input.


Assume all customers are equal

Not all customers are alike and there are not all worth the same to your business. So, if a customer wants to cancel their account, do it for them right away. Better yet, let them cancel without having to call your company at all. It should be just as easy to cancel as it was to sign up.


Winning customers back with exceptional service is an important aspect of your business that you should focus on, but when customers already have one foot out the door let the parting be as frictionless as possible.


Customers aren’t necessarily done with you for good just because they cancel their account once, so don’t hassle them as they exit. Remind them what they’ll be missing by simply being sincerely helpful.




So what’s the conclusion? The conclusion is there is no conclusion. There is only the next step. And that next step is completely up to you.


It’s up to you to keep improving your customer attention and focus. Lessons are all around you. In many situations, your competitor may be providing the ideas and or inspiration. But the key is in knowing that it is within you already.


All you get is what you bring to the fight. And that fight gets better every day you learn and apply new lessons.


When things go wrong, what’s most important is your next step.


Need some help in building better customer trust from your customer engagement? Creative ideas to help grow your customer relationships?


Call today for a FREE consultation or a FREE quote. Learn about some options to scope your job and pay for results.

Call Mike at 607-725-8240.


All you get is what you bring to the fight. And that fight gets better every day you learn and apply new ideas.


When things are not what you want them to be, what’s most important is your next step. Call today.


Test. Learn. Improve. Repeat.


Are you devoting enough energy to improving your continuous learning for yourself and your team?


Mike Schoultz is the founder of Digital Spark Marketing, a digital marketing and customer service agency. With 40 years of business experience, he blogs on topics that relate to improving the performance of your business. Find them on G+Twitter, and LinkedIn.  


Digital Spark Marketing will stretch your thinking and your ability to adapt to change.  We also provide some fun and inspiration along the way. Call us for a free quote today. You will be amazed how reasonable we will be.


More reading on customer engagement from our library:

Communications Are Key to Building Customer Trust

Improve Customer Engagement to Win Business

Deadly Mistakes that Destroy Employee Engagement

Influence Consumer Behavior Through Personalization Strategies


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Handling Customer Complaints … 8 Mistakes to Avoid