It’s inevitable that at some point you will have an unhappy customer, and they all head right to Yelp, right?

Maybe they didn’t get the product they wanted, or their order arrived late, or maybe the service was just terrible, or they didn’t like the way the steak came out, or the color of their server’s hair… who knows. But when this happens, it’s important to deal with the customer complaint before they go online and post their negative feedback as an online review.

Your goal is to turn unhappy customers into loyal customers by the way you handle their concerns.

In a general review of consumer experience, 15% of customers get less than they expected from their experience; 80% get exactly what they expected; and only 5% got more than they expected. Your job is all about managing expectations. The key is to deliver more than your customers expect, which will set your company completely apart from all your competition.

Customers can either be unhappy, satisfied, or loyal. Your constant focus is to be moving them all further along what I like to call the “happiness journey” to loyal, repeat, increased spending customers.

How often have you asked a customer “how was everything” and have them say “fine” as they leave, only to discover that they went online and posted a less than favorable review. Infuriating!

A Complaint is an Opportunity

When an unhappy customer makes the effort to complain or offer some constructive feedback, think about it this way: if they have taken the time to speak to you, then they think you can do something about it.

They want you to offer a solution. How you handle customer complaints will impact whether that customer will return and/or recommend you to their friends.

Pro Tip: When someone takes the time to complain about something, don’t look at it as an insult. It’s a compliment! The person believes you can solve the problem. Reward that belief by correcting the problem, if you’re capable of doing so. Sometimes it’s giving them their money back, sometimes it’s giving them a replacement, and sometimes it’s just apologizing with a promise to do a better job next time.

Encourage customers to contact you or your managers directly if they have concerns, with easy access to you personally, your email, a phone number, a comment card or ideally, an online

survey after their visit. Providing them a way to offer feedback, good or bad, before they go to an online review site, will prevent negative reviews.

When someone approaches you with a complaint, be grateful that they did so – because often people prefer the less personal method of posting a negative review online. Being given the opportunity to deal with it before it lives permanently on the internet helps you keep your online reputation clean and moves you up the search rankings as your positive reviews far out weigh your negative ones.

How To Handle Customer Complaints

No one likes to hear criticism, but when you own a business it’s inevitable, regardless of how exceptional your product/service and your staff are.

Handling customer complaints well is important to avoid an unhappy customer telling all their friends, or worse, posting a negative online review. By responding quickly, acknowledging the complaint, apologizing, trying to fix the problem, offering refunds or compensation, and thanking the customer for their feedback, businesses can show they care about their customers and are willing to work to resolve any issues. These steps can help to turn an unhappy customer into a satisfied one. (This is a good guide to share with your managers and staff that deal directly with your customers.)

  • Respond professionally. When you get a complaint in person it may be hard to maintain a calm, solution focused demeanour. This is not the time to argue, get defensive, point fingers, or not accept responsibility. Your comments and behavior here will be seen by many people as well as your staff, make sure it is a positive, respectful exchange.
  • Respond quickly and politely to complaints when they are made over the phone or by email.
  • Acknowledge the customer’s complaint and apologize for the inconvenience. Regardless of whether or not you agree, they have a legitimate issue and you want to hear what they are saying.
  • Listen to them, it makes the customer feel valued. Ask them what will make them happy? They likely have a solution in their mind.
  • Fix the problem as quickly as possible.
  • If you are unable to fix the problem, offer them a refund or some other form of compensation.
  • Thank the customer for their feedback and let them know what steps you will be taking to improve your business.
  • If you can, follow up to ensure their next visit or transaction was improved.

Give Your Staff Autonomy

Staff training is key to handling customer complaints, not every situation needs to be handled by you personally. Identify the parameters and scope of the complaints that they can deal with on their own, and how they can provide solutions. You also want to have a way to document these interactions so that you know they have occurred and how they were handled. A report of the incidents will also keep your team accountable, to ensure no one abuses the responsibility.

Allowing your staff members to handle the complaint in a polite and professional manner gives them autonomy and a sense of personal responsibility for their role.

Your staff’s sense of agency is important in handling unhappy customers. When your staff feel like they can make a difference, they’re more likely to go the extra mile for a customer, in anticipation of avoiding a complaint. This includes handling complaints in a way that resolves the issue and makes the customer, and you, happy. In order to give your staff the best chance at succeeding, train them on how to handle complaints and emphasize the importance of customer satisfaction.

Pro Tip: In addition to learning the effective ways to deal with complaints shown above, one great tool to help train your team is role-playing. By rehearsing potential complaints and objections ahead of time, you can prepare before real-life negative interactions occur. It helps them have the right words in their head before a customer confronts them and gives them confidence to deal with the situation when it arises.

Bottom line, your staff should be familiar with your company’s policies and procedures for handling complaints, as well as your limitations of what they can handle personally. They should be able to handle difficult situations calmly and politely. Training your staff to deal with customer complaints will help ensure that all customers are treated fairly and that any complaints are handled quickly and professionally so that you do not always have to be the one available to handle them

Use a Guarantee To Give You The Power

If a customer is unhappy, it’s in your best interest to make the customer happy. Almost always, you are going to provide the solution that makes them happy. By promoting a guarantee, you can get added mileage from something you are going to do anyway. An iron-clad guarantee can then be used as a strong marketing selling point.

As long as you are providing a good quality product, the amount of people that will take advantage of you is very small compared to the benefits of using it in your marketing. Something like this….

We’re so convinced that once you try XYZ Business it will become your favorite, too. So that’s why we guarantee all our X and Y and service. If you aren’t completely satisfied, we’ll replace your order or it’s on the house! Your choice. No questions asked, no hassles!

This assumes, of course, that you provide a fantastic product or service and great customer service. If your complaints are few and far between, then offering a guarantee goes a long way to adding credibility and shows you’re confident in your business efforts.

Secret Marketing Tip: One of the best marketing campaigns that I have ever run was when I owned my pizzeria. I invested in a billboard sign that read- “Best Pizza In 50 Miles Or It’s FREE.” Gutsy…Yep. People knew me as the “50 Mile Pizza Guy.” Worked like crazy. And you know how many Free pizzas I gave away in one year? Two. Not a bad payoff.

Two things to remember about a guarantee- you have to have a good product and test it small first.

Remember Negative Feedback Isn’t Always Bad

Handling customer complaints is an important part of any business, and it can be difficult to prevent every unhappy customer from going online to post a negative review. Fortunately, when you are given the opportunity to offer a solution before they go online, you have a chance to make things right for them.

When you put some strategies in place to manage expectations and you and your team are prepared when the inevitable unhappy customer is in front of you, you can turn that unhappy customer in a long term loyal one. Remember… ANSWER YOUR REVIEWS! Your customers just want to be heard.

If you are interested in what your customers are saying about you, how you rank online against your competition, and how you can use your reviews to attract more new customers and rise to the top of Google, FB, Yelp, and TripAdvisor so your new potential customers see you first.

Click the button below and sign up for a FREE Online Reputation Health Check for your business. One of our Expert DFY Online Review Managers will analyze your online reputation and tell you exactly what you need to know to crush it when it comes to Google and your review rankings. Hey, 98% of YOUR new customers check you out online before giving you money. Better pay attention to your reviews… because your customers do.

Yes, I Want 5 Stars
Michael Thibault
Michael Thibault

Michael Thibault

Known as “The Done For You Marketing Guy for Restaurants.” International Speaker on Restaurant Marketing. Published contributing author of 4 Marketing Books. Industry expert on Google Searches and Review Sites. Recovering Independent Restaurant Owner and Caterer of over 21 years. And, all-around good guy.

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