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Most business owners fear customer complaints because all they see is the negative. But complaints can actually be a great opportunity to see your business from the customer’s point of view, alert you to problem areas or weaknesses, and fix them—which results in a positive reputation, excellent word-of-mouth marketing, and growth for your business.

Keep in mind that today’s social media has changed the way businesses gain exposure. According to the Forrester’s Business Impact of Customer Experience, not only are customers far more inclined to rate and review companies publically, but social proof encourages or discourages potential customers from making the same purchase.

Combine this with one of the study’s other important findings—that customer satisfaction strongly correlates to customer loyalty—and you can see why creating a positive customer experience is so important. So rather than try to cover up or ignore negative reviews about your service or product, here’s how to turn customer complaints around to benefit your small business.

Perform a Complaint Analysis

When you get a complaint, the first thing you need to do is to figure out how it stacks up against other ones that your company has received. Although all customer statements must be treated with consideration, not all of them have equal value; appeasing an irrational customer is not the same as addressing a weak link in your supply chain or troubleshooting flaws in your customer service. Approaching a complaint from an analytic perspective means asking yourself a series of questions:

  • Is this the first time the company has received this particular complaint?
  • If it’s not the first time, what steps have been taken to resolve the complaint?
  • Has the same customer complained more than once about the same issue?
  • Is there a pattern to the way complaints have been handled?

In order to do an effective analysis, it helps to keep a clear organizational record of complaints, including the method by which you received each one and the time it took to resolve them. Launching customer service software for your small business can help to take the guesswork out of the process.

Be Open and Empathetic

It’s natural to feel defensive when someone criticizes your business. The customer might resort to infuriating personal attacks or even threats. The last thing you want to do is give into the urge to fight with your customer. Even if they are flat out wrong, and you can prove it, nothing positive will come of your calling them on it. Instead, channel your empathy. There’s a good chance that this person’s experience with your company was the final straw in his lousy week and that his frustration is not entirely about you. Keep in mind that people are more inclined to become emotional while under stress and just want to be heard, so give them the benefit of the doubt and be an empathetic listener. Always try to separate the customer’s delivery of their complaint from the complaint itself. Do not engage at the level of their delivery. Instead, be calm and positive as you draw out the details of their experience with your company.

Listen to What They Are Saying

Because hearing a complaint can be an unpleasant event, you may find it hard to focus on what the customer is really saying, but it’s important to listen strategically to complaints. Find out where the source of the problem lies and whether it is a known entity or something new and unanticipated. Make sure to note how other customer service personnel addressed any prior complaints. Ask how the customer would like to see the problem resolved. Keep in mind that the customer is not attacking you. Instead, they are giving you valuable and unsolicited (read: honest) feedback about how to make your company run better. This information may be worth its weight in online surveys, so give the complaint the respect it deserves.

Take Full Responsibility

Don’t be afraid to apologize when your company is in the wrong. The world is filled with people who pass the buck, refuse to admit accountability, and blame the other guy. Some companies will even give restitution without ever admitting to the customer that they screwed up! Sometimes all the customer wants to hear is your acknowledgment of responsibility. Customer service representatives who can apologize sincerely and are willing to follow up with a timely resolution are truly exceptional commodities.

Resolve the Problem Whenever Possible

Once your communication with the client is over, the next step is to resolve their complaint. Resolution can take many forms:

  • Replacing merchandise
  • Refunding the purchase price
  • Offering a discount coupon for the next purchase
  • Making a personnel change in your customer service department
  • Finding a new supplier or distributor

The best way to achieve full customer satisfaction is to follow up with your customer in writing. You can email them asking for feedback about how well you handled their complaint, but in order to show that you care about their business, you should let them know exactly how you were able to resolve the problem for them. Including a discount on their next purchase or offering a free service along with your message is yet another way for you to exceed their expectations. Keep in mind that customers never forget terrible service or excellent service, so ask yourself at which end of the spectrum you’d rather be. Don’t worry if you’re not able to achieve resolution quickly—it’s better to do the job right than to push through a quick but ineffective solution. Each complaint you resolve is a golden opportunity to enhance your reputation as the best in your business, grow a loyal customer base, and help your company thrive.

Bluehost takes customer service very seriously and we make every point of contact an opportunity to learn exactly what our customers need, which is why we have a 98.9 percent satisfaction rate. Check out what we can do for you here.

  • Devin Sears

    Devin is a Senior Event Marketing Manager for the Bluehost brand. He is our brand steward for all things Bluehost and WordPress. You'll always see him supporting Bluehost at WordCamps around the world!

    Brigham Young University
    Previous Experience
    Social Media, Customer Experience, Field Marketing, Sponsorships, Event Coordinator
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