Customer complaints: The bitter pill good for business


Word of mouth over time can either make or break any business. 

If customers have a good experience, they will tell others about how you made them feel, what you did to make them feel or how satisfied they were with your product.

But if a customer has a bad experience, research tells us there’s a higher chance that they’ll tell even more people about a bad experience than a good one.  

With the evolution of technology, in particular the rise of the Internet, word of mouth has grown beyond merely talking to one another directly.

Social media, review platforms and directories, and digital media are an example of how customers have more power than ever now.

As a business, there’s one thing that everyone dreads – a customer complaint.

According to research by Esteban Kolsky, 13% of unhappy customers will share their complaint with about 15 or more people.

Whist only one 1 in 26 unhappy customers will complain directly to you. 

And it might seem like an outlandish idea, but that one customer is doing you a favour. 

No one wants to get negative feedback about their product or service – but this can be one of the best ways to know what you need to improve and what your customers expect of you.

A customer complaint highlights a problem, whether that’s a problem with your product, employees or internal processes, and by hearing these problems directly from your customers, you can investigate and improve to prevent further complaints in the future.

In fact, research suggests that if customer’s complaints are handled in a proper and prompt manner, that customer can actually become, not only loyal, but a brand advocate.

Resolving a customer complaint doesn’t just save your reputation and branding, it can actually draw in more customers.

How to handle customer complaints

Receiving a complaint is nothing you need to hide from.  Yes, it can be confronting, but there is a right way in handling complaints. No business is perfect, but it’s important to show your customers (as well as potential customers) that you are trying to improve.

Some tips to keep in mind:

Listen and understand

It is always important to listen to your customers. They haven’t made their complaint for no reason – you need to understand why they have made the complaint and what it means for you.

Research shows that customers care more about a quality service than a fast response. In this case, you should take time to listen and understand the problem and to come up with the best solution.


Don’t be afraid to apologise for a mistake.  There’s an age old saying in business – “the customer is always right”,  and whilst this may not always be true in your eyes, it’s how you made the customer ‘feel’ is what really matters.

While some customers may want action to be taken, many are simply looking for an apology and an acknowledgement that they have been heard.

Research by The Nottingham School of Economics found that unhappy customers are more willing to forgive a company that offers an apology as opposed to being compensated.

The research showed that 45% of customers were willing to withdraw their complaint of an organisation if they received an apology, while only 23% of customers withdrew their negative evaluation in return for compensation.

Find a solution

However, it’s important to keep in mind that apologising isn’t simply enough. To ensure you do not receive a second complaint, you need to find a solution to your problem and resolve it.

As an organisation, you need to band together and come up with a viable solution – how can you improve the product/service?

This may seem like it takes time, money and resources, but it will be worth it if it ensured you never hear that complaint from another customer again. By appeasing one customer complaint, you can be pleased with many more potential customers.

Follow up with the customer

Once you have apologised and implemented a solution, it’s important to give feedback to the customer in question. Let them know what changes you have made and how your business has acknowledged what their complaint was.

It’s important to follow up with customers to make sure they are satisfied with the solution.

Almost 70% of customers leave a company because they believe you don’t care about them. Following up shows you care. And this makes the customer feel important.

Exceed Expectations

Once you have acknowledged the mistake, fixed the problem and followed up, you think you’re done, right?

Well not exactly, this is your opportunity to go beyond your customer’s expectations.

This could be anything from a hand written thank you note or checking up with them in a few months to see if they are still satisfied with everything.

By doing this, the memory of whatever complaint they had about you will be a distant memory compared to the memory of how you cared for them as a customer.