In a two-star Yelp review (customer and business shall remain nameless), a customer complained at length about the cost of a service call and labor to repair a hot tub. Within the complaint, it was mentioned that the service technician fixed the problem and even called the service manager who discounted the labor costs. The customer then expressed a hope that the hot tub store would review their service charge policies.

The business then responded, as they should have, to the consumer complaint. However, they did so in a manner that will probably ensure that the customer will NEVER buy from them again. The response was defensive, condescending, filled with angry justifications and offered no helpful information or assistance. In fact, it ended by demeaning the reviewer to other potential customers who might read the review.

Forbes reports that “80% of businesses think they deliver superior customer service (while only 8% of customers agree).”


So, what really happened here? For this business, the customer complaint was a problem. Rather than acknowledge the customer’s right to disagree with the pricing and politely explain the reasons they charge as they do, the business reacted with indignation and outrage. They missed an opportunity to turn a negative into a positive and in doing so lost countless potential new customers, as well.

If you see customer complaints as a problem instead of an opportunity, you will lose customers just like the business on Yelp; it’s that simple.


So You Got a Bad Review…

Are you surprised when a customer is dissatisfied? Do you feel insulted? Is your first instinct to defend your business practices? In many cases the answer to these questions is probably “yes.” Forbes magazine reports that “80% of businesses think they deliver superior customer service (while only 8% of customers agree).” Business Strategist Jay Baer offers three strategies for handling customer complaints effectively:

  1. LISTEN – Most customers just want to be heard so let them rant. Always let them finish explaining their situation before offering any kind of response. Better yet, listen actively by taking notes as you hear them out.
  2. Be TRUTHFUL – Do not make excuses! Everyone makes mistakes and you will, too. Lying or offering deceitful justifications only compounds the problem. Face the issue head-on.
  3. APOLOGIZE – An honest “I’m sorry” goes a long way. Even if it’s just a misunderstanding, it is important to validate the customer’s concerns. Offer a heartfelt “I’m sorry for the misunderstanding” or “I apologize for our mistake” followed by what you’ll do to correct the situation. The important thing is to be sincere.


Another thing retailers need to be aware of is that, rather than approach the business in person, customers may be more likely to post negative comments in online forums such as Google Plus, Yelp, Facebook, Angie’s List, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Why is this bad? Because potential new customers read these reviews when trying to decide where to make purchases. A Nielson survey reports that “66% of respondents say they trust consumer opinions posted online.” Do you want to know the best way to handle the online complaints?

ASK FOR BAD REVIEWS! Sound counterintuitive? Just try it. Invite customers to post negative comments by asking questions like “Had a bad experience? Tell us why.” Here’s how it works:

  • No news is NOT good news. Just because you haven’t heard the negative feedback, doesn’t mean the customer didn’t have a negative experience.
  • Be authentic. Make your business transactions transparent; keep the customer informed every step of the way. Tell it like it is.
  • Customer voice matters. Illustrate this by responding to both positive and negative online comments. Respond promptly to show them you care about their issues.
  • Provide thoughtful responses. Don’t argue, don’t blame them, and don’t angrily justify the situation. Respond quickly and offer solutions.
  • Follow up. Make sure the situation was resolved and that the customer is now satisfied. Prompt attention and results can turn negative experiences into positive ones.


When you take the time to respond to both the positive and the negative reviews, you show potential new customers reading the reviews that you care about them and the quality of your customer service. Andy Beal, a North Carolina based consultant, shares that businesses “earn the trust of the public by responding to customer complaints, providing useful information, and answering peoples’ questions. Then, when it comes time to buy, people will patronize your store.”

The key is to recognize the issue, acknowledge it’s a problem, and resolve it quickly.


Let Me Transfer You…

A Dimensional Research Survey showed that “customer service experiences are judged more on the timeliness of the interaction than on its final outcome.” They surveyed 1,046 customers of variously sized businesses with the following results.

Good Experiences:

  • 69% equated good customer service with quick problem resolution.
  • 47% equated good customer service with getting their desired outcome.
  • 52% said a good experience would lead to future purchases from the business and 58% of those would recommend the business to a friend.


Bad Experiences:

  • 72% blamed their bad customer service experience on having to explain their problems over and over again to multiple people.
  • 65% considered customer service to be bad if it took too long to resolve (regardless of the outcome).
  • 59% said a bad experience would cause them to take their business elsewhere, while 40% of those said they would spread negative reviews of the business to others.


You know how you feel when you call your credit card company about a questionable charge and you get a customer service rep who transfers you to an account manager who transfers you to the billing department where someone transfers you back to the customer service department? Yeah, your customers know that feeling, too. Don’t you wish the customer service rep at your credit card company had the “autonomy and tools to resolve customer service issues” right then and there, without having to bring others into the mix?

Well guess what, your customers wish your business had that, too. At the very least, tell customers upfront if you aren’t in a position to help fix the problem. Tell them what you can and can’t do, then refer them to someone who can help them or find out what can be done, and get back to them as soon as possible.

Your unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning. - Bill Gates


What’s the point of all this? The point is that customers want their issues dealt with as quickly and as efficiently as possible. Think about what you want when you complain to a business about something and you’ll be better able to provide that same level of service to your customers.


From Objection to Opportunity

Customer complaints are a golden opportunity to make your business better. When a customer objects to some aspect of their experience with your company it accomplishes three things:

  • It shows you your weaknesses whether it be an employee, a product, or a service.
  • It helps you appreciate the customers who are satisfied with their experiences.
  • It forces you to slow down and see the situation from a different perspective because taking the time to listen to complaints forces you to evaluate your priorities.


According to Bill Gates, “Your unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” When dealing with difficult customers, ask yourself these questions:

  • What do the difficult customers have in common?
  • Do they have similar complaints?
  • Is the problem with you, your employee(s), or another element of your business?


Make it easy for customers to register complaints using email, telephone, blogs, letters, etc. and be sure to acknowledge every problem promptly. Use the experience to fix problems within your business and to find solutions that will help avoid a recurrence of the issue. In other words, use the situation as an opportunity to make your business better and stronger.


Key Points to Remember

Know that “customer dissatisfaction may be more important than customer satisfaction.” Know why your customers are dissatisfied, track complaints, and follow up on every sale and review. Express your appreciation for all feedback, but especially for negative feedback because it gives you the opportunity to make your business better.

Finally, realize that not all difficult customers are right, but a wrong customer service experience won’t make the situation better.