Customer complaints -- they come in the form of an angry email, a scathing online review, an awkward in-person encounter, a negative tweet, or an unexpected phone call.
Customer complaints result from you, your product, your staff, or your service falling short of expectations. As difficult and uncomfortable as they are, customer complaints are a part of doing business, and they must be dealt with properly.
If you don't handle customer complaints properly, your business is poised to be damaged beyond your control. For every complaint a customer brings up to your business, 26 other customers don't reach out, meaning that a small amount of complaints doesn't necessarily mean a small number of unhappy customers.
What's worse is that 91% of customers who have a complaint -- whether they reach out or not -- will stop doing business with the company, and will tell up to 20 people about their negative experience with your business.
In a world dominated by word-of-mouth marketing and the need for positive customer experiences, you need to equip your business with a process for sourcing, hearing, responding to, and fixing customer complaints.
In this post, we'll provide you with a step-by-step process for responding to customer reviews, in addition to tips for gathering feedback from customers and fixing issues that lead to complaints.
HubSpot's free Review Response Templates will help you develop your strategy for responding to online customer complaints in a sincere, consistent, and uniform way. Click here to access the prompts for free.
How to Respond to Customer Complaints
Listen to or read the customer's complaint.
Take a moment to process the criticism.
Determine what action you'll take to address the problem.
Thank the customer for their feedback.
Apologize and reiterate your understanding of the issue.
Clearly outline your plan to remedy the situation.
Thank the customer again and offer follow-up information.
Check to see if the customer is happy with the result.
Incorporate changes from customer feedback.
Customer complaints can come in through different mediums, have different levels of frustration, and require different solutions to make up for the issue. That said, building out and relying on a roadmap for responding to these complaints is a necessary starting point. From there, you should customize this approach for each interaction.
Here's our recommended process for how to respond to customer complaints.
1. Listen to or read the customer's complaint.
When you have a customer complaint, your first job is to listen to the issue and focus on what your customer is experiencing. Regardless of whether the complaint is over a price increase, a bad meal, or a service outage, your customer is reaching out to you to express frustration.
It's easy to become defensive or to write off the complaint, but keep in mind the numbers -- if one customer is coming to you with this complaint, 26 others are keeping quiet about the same one.
A customer's complaint should always be treated as legitimate, as many others may be feeling the same way. So, give your full attention and empathy to the customer's story.
2. Take a moment to process the criticism.
Some feedback can hit hard. It's not easy acknowledging you let a customer down, but getting to the root of the problem is an essential step to properly handling a complaint.
If you get this feedback online -- such as an online review or through social media -- you have some time to understand where the customer is coming from. This will be a bit harder if you're getting this criticism in real-time, like in person or over a phone call. The latter situation calls on you to put yourself in your customer's shoes sooner than later and truly prioritize fixing the issue -- which can only be done if you hear the complaint and digest the meaning within it.
3. Determine what action you'll take to address the problem.
Customer complaints can be commonplace, so chances are you'll know how to solve an issue almost immediately after listening to the details behind it.
However, as you're well aware, sometimes a complaint comes completely out of left field and you're not sure what to do. If you need some time to think about the best course of action, be honest with your customers. Tell them you need time to figure out how you can best make it up to them and provide a timeline for when you'll reach out with a solution -- or better yet, ask customers what they need for you to make it up to them, and figure out if their request is doable.
4. Thank the customer for their feedback.
We keep harkening back to this stat, but it's important -- the majority of customers who have complaints with your business will not communicate them to you. That can leave you totally in the dark about how your customers really feel. Therefore, the first thing you should say when responding to a customer complaint is "thank you for letting me know."
There's no law that customers have to share feedback or leave a review. Some customers feel uncomfortable confronting businesses with negativity and would rather just ignore the issue or stop doing business with you altogether. The information that feedback contains can radically improve your customer experience, so even if the comments don't make you feel good in the moment, you should still thank customers for their insight.
5. Apologize and reiterate your understanding of the issue.
Immediately after thanking the customer, you should apologize for what happened and express empathy by explaining your understanding of what happened.
For example, let's say an account manager working for an ecommerce platform receives an email from her client, saying his online payment system temporarily went down. The response should start like this:
Thanks so much for reaching out and letting us know. I'm so sorry about the issue with the payment system -- once we noticed the issue, we put our team on it and it was resolved within minutes.
That said, I know that doesn't make up for the revenue you lost and may not get back. I completely understand you could have lost business because of this issue, and that's not acceptable.
This response thanks the customer for sharing feedback, apologizes for the issue, explains what led to the situation, and shows an understanding of how the issue affected the customer. The customer should now understand that his account rep fully understands the reason for the complaint and values his business and feedback.
6. Clearly outline your plan to remedy the situation.
If the example above ended after those two paragraphs, this issue would hardly have been handled well. A proper response to a customer complaint is incomplete without an explanation of what happens next.
These days, it's best practice to go above and beyond when remedying customer complaints. Let's return to the example of the broken payment processor, and pick things up where we left them to show how we can remedy this situation:
The product team is making it their new priority to ensure this problem does not happen again. We were able to identify the reason for the issue quite quickly and will be working to safeguard it from a similar outage in the future so you can feel confident using our software moving forward.
In the meantime, we want to make this up to you. I was able to get your software fees for this and next month waived. You should see a credit in your account in the next 3-5 business days – please reach out to me if you do not see that. I hope this in some part makes up for whatever loss your business incurred during the outage.
This explanation outlines the improvement to the service and compensates the customer for his potentially lost revenue. Now, he knows more information about the issue, what's being done to prevent it from recurring, and is getting free software for sharing his criticisms -- this kind of response encourages customer feedback and makes it more likely this customer will share his opinion moving forward.
7. Thank the customer again and offer follow-up information.
If you've followed the steps up until now, the complaint should be sufficiently addressed and your customer should feel like the issue has been fully resolved.
If that's the case, thank the customer once again for reaching out and offer follow-up information or instructions if the customer needs to get back in touch with you.
This step is particularly important for online reviews, which contain much less back-and-forth discussion (if any) compared to complaints made over email, on the phone, via social media, or in person. If customers are writing a review online, they might not have the contact information to follow up with the best person, so consider leaving the name, phone number, and/or email address of the person to speak to at the end of a negative online review.
8. Check in to see if the customer is happy with the result.
After some time has passed, you should follow up with customers to see if they're satisfied with the resolution.
The time frame is definitely fuzzy for this one -- some issues can be followed up with a few days or even weeks after they were resolved, while more time-sensitive ones warrant a follow-up within a day.
Use your gut here -- it's better to over-communicate after a customer complaint than the other way around, as it shows you really do care about the problem and wish to make up for it.
9. Incorporate changes from customer feedback.
After all is said and done, it's time to follow through with your promises. After all, if you complained about a mishap and were promised a change that didn't happen, wouldn't you be pretty upset?
Not every complaint warrants a change in business strategy. For example, if one customer complains her shipment was damaged, this doesn't mean you need to overhaul your entire supply chain. However, if 100 customers complain about having damaged shipments, maybe you should look into your warehouse or shipping centers.
This is on you to listen carefully, draw connections between complaints, and determine if larger action is warranted. If you receive multiple complaints about one employee, one product, or one feature, that probably means there's a problem with that employee, product, or feature that needs to be addressed -- so get to work!
Bonus Tip: Build a Response Plan and Bank
If your business receives feedback often, make sure you have a documented brand voice and response strategy in place. Remember, you may want to download and customize these review response prompts if you find yourself spending too much time responding to reviews each week.
Handling Customer Complaints
Responding to customer complaints is never fun, but it's part of the job.
Taking the time to develop a strategy for responding to these complaints and handling each incident with the care shows your customers that they're valued. This makes them much less likely to do business with a competitor.
Keep these best practices in mind the next time you go to respond to a review, a tweet, or have a conversation with someone who feels wronged by your business.