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Handling Customer Complaints: 7 Best Practices for Higher Retention

May 27, 2024 | Blog

Key Takeaways

  • Effective complaint handling boosts customer retention.
  • Active listening and empathy are crucial in managing complaints.
  • Prompt, personalized responses build customer trust.
  • Clear communication channels facilitate better complaint management.
  • Employee training and empowerment lead to efficient resolution.
  • Consistent follow-up ensures continued customer satisfaction.
  • Viewing complaints as opportunities can enhance business processes.
  • On location feedback is essential



Customer complaints are an inevitable aspect of any service business. While often seen as negative, these complaints can be a goldmine of information that can lead to improved service quality and customer satisfaction. This means that effectively managing customer complaints not only resolves immediate issues but also significantly contributes to customer retention and online brand reputation. Nowadays this means negative publicity on social media. This article explores the link between efficient complaint management and customer loyalty, outlining seven essential tactics that businesses need to employ.

So when did this all start?

Where is the First Official Customer Complaint?

The world’s oldest known customer complaint dates back over 3,800 years to Mesopotamia. A merchant named Nanni sent a scathing complaint to Ea-nasir, a copper trader, for delivering subpar copper and treating his messengers with contempt. This ancient grievance, etched in cuneiform on a clay tablet, underscores that customer dissatisfaction is as old as commerce itself

Why is this Important to a Business?

According to a study by Esteban Kolsky, 13% of unhappy customers will share their negative experience with 15 or more people. On the flip side, resolving a complaint in the customer’s favor can lead to increased loyalty and positive word-of-mouth. In fact, 70% of customers whose complaints are resolved will do business with the company again.

In the United States alone, companies lose approximately $1.7 trillion annually due to dissatisfied customers. A single negative experience can lead 85% of customers to avoid a company, with 25% sharing their displeasure with friends and 20% posting negative reviews online

Unhappy customers tell 15 others

More Issues to Consider

  • Impact on Customer Satisfaction: When customers voice their complaints, they are providing valuable feedback. Addressing these complaints effectively shows customers that their opinions matter, which can lead to increased satisfaction and loyalty.
  • Valuable Insights for Business Improvement: Complaints highlight areas where a business may be falling short. By analyzing these issues, businesses can identify trends and make necessary improvements, turning weaknesses into strengths and deliver loyal customers.
  • Long-term Benefits: Resolving complaints efficiently can turn dissatisfied customers into loyal advocates. This not only helps in retaining customers but also enhances the overall brand reputation, encouraging new customers to engage with the business

So now we know why handing.customer complaints properly is essential – what are the SEVEN key tactics?

Seven Key Tactics for Handling Customer Complaints

7 tactics in handling customer complaints

1. Active Listening and Empathy

Active listening

Listening actively means giving the customer your full attention, which helps in understanding the root of their issue. Avoid interrupting and allow them to express their concerns fully. When a customer reaches out with a complaint, the first step is to listen actively and empathize with their situation. Avoid interrupting or becoming defensive, as this can escalate the situation and make the customer feel unheard. This is hard to do:

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” – Stephen R. Covey

Here are the best practices to use when actively listening to an upset customer:

1. Stay Calm and Composed: When a customer is upset, it’s important to remain calm, patient, and professional. Avoid getting defensive or taking the complaint personally. Maintain a friendly and empathetic tone.

2. Listen Without Interrupting: Allow the customer to fully express their complaint without interrupting them. Resist the urge to jump in and explain or defend yourself until they have finished speaking.

3. Ask Clarifying Questions: Once the customer has finished explaining the situation, ask open-ended questions to ensure you fully understand the issue and the customer’s perspective. Repeat back key points to confirm your understanding.

4. Validate Their Feelings: Acknowledge the customer’s frustration or dissatisfaction by validating their feelings. Use phrases like “I understand why you feel that way” or “I can see why this situation is concerning to you.”

5. Propose a Solution: After gathering all the necessary information and understanding the customer’s perspective, propose a solution or set of options to resolve the issue. If an immediate solution is not possible, explain the steps you will take to address the problem and provide a timeline for resolution.

2. Prompt and Personal Response

Prompt Response Icon

Responding promptly to complaints shows customers that their issues are a priority. Delays in response can exacerbate the customer’s dissatisfaction. In today’s fast-paced world, customers expect prompt responses to their complaints. Failing to address their concerns in a timely manner can further exacerbate the situation and lead to negative word-of-mouth or even lost business.

This is validation for using an on location feedback tool like Opiniator that allows immediate alerts back to the business within 15 seconds of an issue occurring. This means staff can respond in almost real-time to fix the issue and connect with the customer.

Even if the business may not have an immediate solution, a quick response simply acknowleding they are listing will placate the customer. So be transparent about the steps you’re taking to resolve the issue and provide regular updates to the customer throughout the process. Moreover, addressing customers by name and personalizing responses to their specific issues can build a stronger rapport and trust. Automated, generic responses often feel impersonal and can alienate customers further.

3. Clear Communication Channels

Clear communication channels icon

A business make complaining an easy and convenient thing to do. This means providing multiple channels for customers to voice complaints. Obvious channels for customers to reach out, such as on site, phone, email, and social media. This ensures that customers can choose the most convenient method for them.

Do not rely on any one channel alone and please, please don’t use social media for feedback

Make sure that the complaint channels are user-friendly and accessible. Complex or hard-to-find complaint procedures can deter customers from voicing their concerns.

4. Training and Empowering Employees

Empowering employees icon

Equip your staff with the skills needed to manage complaints through regular training sessions. This includes teaching them active listening, empathy, and problem-solving skills. However – lets get more specific as this one is critical. So lets think about the most important aspects of employee empowerment:

1. Proper Training: Provide comprehensive training on customer service, communication skills, active listening, and conflict resolution techniques. Equip your staff with the knowledge and tools to handle complaints professionally and efficiently.

2. Clear Policies and Procedures: Establish well-defined policies and procedures for handling complaints. This ensures consistency in approach and sets clear expectations for both staff and customers.

3. Empower with Authority: Give your staff the authority to make decisions and offer solutions within defined limits. This empowers them to take ownership and resolve issues promptly, without constant escalation.

4. Foster a Customer-Centric Culture: Cultivate a culture that prioritizes customer satisfaction. Encourage empathy, patience, and a genuine desire to resolve complaints in a positive manner.

5. Continuous Feedback and Improvement: Implement a system for gathering feedback from both staff and customers. Use this information to identify areas for improvement and provide ongoing coaching and support to your staff.

By implementing these tactics, you can create a supportive environment where your staff feels confident and equipped to handle complaints effectively. This not only enhances customer satisfaction but also contributes to a more positive work environment and improved employee retention. Moreove these reduce the time taken to escalate and resolve complaints, leading to faster and more satisfactory outcomes for customers.

5. Consistent Follow-Up

Consistent follow up icon

Following up with customers after resolving their issues shows that you care about their experience and satisfaction. It also provides an opportunity to meet customer expectations and ensure that the resolution was effective. Note that not all customers want to be contacted, so it is important that there is an anonymous option for them to give feedback and complain. In fact you will get more feedback with anonymity. Check out: “What are the Benefits of Anonymous Customer Feedback to a Business?”

If the customer does want to be contacted then use follow-up calls or emails to check in with customers. This can help in maintaining a positive relationship and address any residual concerns they might have.

6. Documenting and Analyzing Complaints

Documents and analysis icon

Documenting complaints helps in tracking common issues and identifying areas for improvement. It also ensures that there is a record of all interactions with the customer. Documents however are useless unless analysis is also performed. This means trends, locations, time stamps, correlation.

Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning, but only with careful, resolute analysis. – Bill Gates

BTW – Opiniator does all this for you with an online dashboard.

Analyzing negative feedback provides several important benefits for a business:

1. Identify issues, locations, staff and areas for improvement: Customer complaints often highlight problems or deficiencies in a company’s products, services, or processes. By carefully analyzing these complaints, businesses can pinpoint areas that need improvement, such as product quality issues, poor customer service, or inefficient processes.

2. Gain valuable customer insights: Customer feedback can provide valuable insights into customer preferences, expectations, and pain points. This feedback can inform product development, marketing strategies, and overall business decisions, helping companies better understand and cater to their customer base.

3. Identify training needs: Customer complaints may reveal gaps in employee knowledge or skills, pointing to the need for additional training or coaching. Addressing these gaps can improve overall customer service and operational efficiency.

7. Turning Complaints into Opportunities – Take Action

Complaints into action icon

Adopt a positive mindset towards complaints, viewing them as opportunities to improve your services. This shift in perspective can lead to significant business growth. Even if the complaint is not entirely your company’s fault, it’s important to take responsibility and offer a solution. So who are the best? Who are the role models in the US for handling customer complaints:

US business who are great at handling customer complaints

There are a few U.S. companies that are generally regarded as being good at handling customer complaints and having strong customer service. Here are some examples:

1. Amazon – Amazon is known for its easy returns process and responsive customer service. They offer multiple channels to contact support like phone, email, and chat. Amazon also has generous return policies and friendly customer service team.

2. Zappos – This online shoe/clothing retailer is legendary for its over-the-top customer service. Zappos reps go above and beyond to address any issues and make shoppers happy. Internal processes are geared for a speedy resolution.

3. Nordstrom – The high-end department store chain has well-trained staff focused on premium customer experience. They have liberal return policies and are highly accommodating.

4. Costco – Members rave about Costco’s customer service agent that aim to satisfy any complaint or return promptly and courteously. Their guarantee makes returns easy.

5. Southwest Airlines – In the airline industry, Southwest gets high marks for responsive customer service reps and flexibility in addressing passengers’ complaints or issues.

Amazon Case Study – Handling Customer Complaints for Improved Retention

Amazon’s excellence in handling the angry customer is attributed to several specific strategies and practices. Here are the key factors, along with examples:

1. Customer-Centric Culture
– Customer Obsession: Amazon places the customer at the core of its operations, ensuring that their needs and concerns are prioritized. This is embodied in their leadership principles.
– Example: Jeff Bezos has often stated that the company focuses on what the customer wants and works backwards from there.

2. Robust Customer Service Infrastructure
– 24/7 Customer Support: Amazon offers round-the-clock customer support via phone, chat, and email.
– Example: A customer can report a problem with an order at any time and receive assistance promptly.

3. Efficient Problem Resolution
– Generous Return Policy: Amazon’s return policy is straightforward and customer-friendly, allowing easy returns and refunds.
– Example: If a customer receives a defective product, they can return it for a full refund or replacement, often without additional cost.

4. Proactive Communication
– Real-Time Updates: Customers receive real-time updates about their complaints and resolutions.
– Example: Automated emails and app notifications keep customers informed about the status of their complaints.

5. Data-Driven Approach
– Feedback Analysis: Amazon uses data analytics to monitor and analyze customer feedback to improve their services.
– Example: Patterns in complaints are identified and addressed systematically, leading to continuous improvement.

6. Empowered Customer Service Representatives
– Authority to Resolve Issues: Customer service reps have the authority to resolve issues on the spot, including issuing refunds and replacements.
– Example: Representatives can often provide instant refunds for smaller issues, reducing wait times for customers.

7. Continuous Improvement
– Regular Training: Ongoing training for customer service staff ensures they are knowledgeable and can handle a wide range of issues effectively.
– Example: Staff are trained in empathy and problem-solving techniques to better address customer concerns.

By implementing these strategies, Amazon not only resolves an angry customer situation efficiently but also enhances customer loyalty and trust.


Effective complaint management is crucial for customer retention and brand reputation. By implementing the seven key tactics discussed—active listening and empathy, prompt and personal responses, clear communication channels, training and empowering employees, consistent follow-up, documenting and analyzing complaints, and turning complaints into opportunities—businesses can deliver excellent customer service. Marketing managers are encouraged to adopt these strategies to not only resolve complaints but also to improve overall customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Handling customer complaints well delivers huge competitive advantage – just look at Amazon and their gain in loyal customers.

Remember that on location, real-time feedback is critical in this process and delievers a positive experience.

  • It provides an easy way to give feedback
  • It delivers immediate analysis
  • And alerts staff if there is an issue
  • Delivering a quick fix and communication back to the customer
  • Making them happier and improving retention
  • Angry customer – to customer happy in seven steps



1. Why is it important to handle customer complaints effectively? Handling a bad experience effectively can increase customer satisfaction, loyalty, and retention, and it provides valuable insights for business improvement.

2. What are some techniques for demonstrating empathy in complaint resolution? Using empathetic language, actively listening without interruption, and acknowledging the customer’s feelings are key techniques for demonstrating empathy.

3. How can businesses ensure their complaint channels are accessible? Businesses can ensure their complaint channels are accessible by providing multiple, easy-to-use options for customers to voice their concerns, such as phone, email, and social media.

4. What is the benefit of empowering employees in complaint resolution? Empowering employees allows them to make quick decisions to resolve issues, leading to faster resolution and increased customer satisfaction.


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