Customer Complaints: 7 Top Mistakes to Avoid At All Costs


Are your staff handling customer complaints so that both they and your business gain maximum advantage? Bill Gates once said, “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning“. Are you taking advantage of this?

1 Fixing The Problem

Believe it or not, fixing the problem is not the unhappy customer’s prime concern. Their concern is to tell their story. And the more “upset” they are the more anxious they are to tell it in full.

2. Not Valuing The Complainant’s Perception

Customers, particularly unhappy ones, want to feel valued. Complaints aren’t about facts or truths. They’re about perception – what the customer believed went wrong: where the customer believes, rightly or wrongly that your business and your employees have erred. It doesn’t matter whether they’re right or wrong. The perceptions that people have are facts to them.

3. Impatience

In trying to do the “right thing” by the customer you press the customer for information rather than listen and sympathize.

4. Failure To Confirm

The customer wants to be sure that their complaint is fully understood. Until they feel – notice I said “feel” – that you understand they won’t be interested in resolution.

5. No Authority

The customer wants to speak with someone who seems to be able to “fix the problem”. Notice that this too is a perception issue. The customer doesn’t want to repeat their story to various people.

6. Lack Of A Goal

An unhappy customer complains for a purpose: a purpose that makes sense to them. They have a goal in mind, even if it’s not clear or specific. Discovering that goal is vital to resolution. Their goal probably includes more than “fixing the problem”.

7. Failure To Apologize

The customer may be totally and utterly unreasonable or have very good grounds for their complaint. Rightly or wrongly they believe that they’re entitled to an apology. You’ll exacerbate their discontent by arguing about who’s right and who’s wrong. They believe that they’re right. They want an apology. They want to feel valued.

Some Tips On Complaint Handling

  • Connect them with someone who can help. Customers want to tell their story to someone who can do something for them. They don’t want to tell the operator, then the sales clerk and finally, the Sales Manager.
  • Listen: listen well, listen carefully, listen courteously. Encourage the customer to tell their story in full and in detail. Use words such as, “What happened then?” “Tell me more” “What else?” “Is there any more to tell?”
  • Sound sympathetic. Avoid an interrogation or a “gimme the facts” approach. Always remember, if you resolve the complaint and satisfy the emotional concerns of the customer, they could become an advocate for life. If they’re upset, acknowledge their emotions: “I can see why that would upset you.”
  • Never, ever query their version of events. Their opinion is a fact to them. Accept what they say regardless of how upset they are or how ridiculous it sounds. When you disagree with the customer you create a second problem. The one that upset the customer in the first place and the new problem of disagreement.
  • Never, ever say, “Please calm down”. They don’t want to calm down. Saying “calm down” won’t work. They’ll calm down when they believe that they’re being listened to and taken seriously.
  • Confirm what they say sensitively and in your own words. Say, “Let me see if I’ve got this right”, “Let me check if I understand”, “Let’s go over that again so that you’re satisfied I’ve all the information”.
  • Find out what the customer wants. They may merely want to “let off steam”, a free replacement within one houe, a total refund or nothing apart from an apology because it was a question of how they believed they were treated and nothing needs “fixing” except their emotions. Do this after you’ve “got their story”. Find out all you can, establish a positive relationship and then find out what they want.
  • Always follow up. When the complaint is finally resolved to the customer’s satisfaction, make sure you call 24-48 hours later to confirm that they’re satisfied.
  • Finally, have a discussion with the staff involved about what you can learn. You may need some small system change or revision of an operating standard. Whatever you do, learn from the experience.

It Boils Down To This

Do you want to win the argument and lose the customer or have no argument and retain the customer? It’s up to you.

“It’s Yours Free” Doesn’t Work

If a customer is really unhappy with a product and can’t satisfied, do not let them keep the product at no cost to them. I’ve seen research that shows that if a disgruntled customer doesn’t want something, they don’t want it at any price. Arrange for collection at your expense, apologize and close the matter.

They regard your product as totally unsuitable. They won’t use it. They don’t want it lying around taking up space. You don’t want them thinking ill of you every time they see your unwanted product lying around the office or factory.


Bill Gates was right. But the “greatest source of learning” will be lost to you if the unhappy customer doesn’t feel valued. You may not be able to give them what they want or you may satisfy them entirely. Either way they want to feel valued as a person and a customer.

What To Do Now

Review your complaints process according to what I’ve said. Leave a comment on the post or contact me direct if you’d like to know more. Stress with staff the idea of making the customer feel valued.

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