The Right Way to Respond to a Customer Complaint

How do you respond to customer complaints?

  1. Listen carefully to the customer
  2. Ask clarifying questions for additional context
  3. Formulate a solution
  4. Say "thank you"
  5. Apologize
  6. Explain what's next
  7. Confirm
  8. Follow up
  9. Leverage customer feedback

Nobody enjoys receiving customer complaints, but they are a fact of business life. How you deal with complaints can have a major impact on your business and your bottom line. Only 4% of unhappy customers complain while others will simply leave and never use your business again. And Americans tell 15 people on average about poor service compared to an average of 11 people about good experiences. 

This shows that you get more bad press from unhappy customers than positive word-of-mouth from happy customers. So, you can think of addressing customer complaints as your chance to give a dissatisfied customer something good to tell their friends about. That’s why it is best to prepare ahead so you and your team are ready to address customer complaints as they arise.

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What are Customer Complaints?

Customer complaints are an expression of disappoint or displeasure by a client. These reports offer negative feedback on aspects of your product or service that have fallen short of expectations. 

These grievances can be the result of things like a business not delivering on a promise, a mismatch between marketing messaging and reality, an error, or a poor experience. 

This input is valuable and helps identify gaps or issues with a product or service so they can be addressed and prevent further occurrences. Plus, it provides an expanded understanding of your customers, their preferences, and their level of satisfaction.

Things to Keep in Mind When Handling Customer Complaints

Customer complaints can be difficult to hear and are often unexpected. Keeping a few simple tips in mind will help you successfully navigate even the most dissatisfied client feedback.

  • Don’t take it personal – It’s easy to become defensive when receiving negative feedback. After all, it is your business. But don’t take it to heart. It’s not about you. It’s about missing the mark in the eyes of the customer. And that is what really matters.
  • Remain calm – Although customer complaints can be emotionally charged, it’s essential that you keep a cool head. Simply allowing the client to air their grievances and not reacting to their temper helps calm them down. They only want to be heard.
  • Take responsibility – Oftentimes the recipient of a complaint did not directly cause the issue that the customer is displeased with, but there is no need to point fingers. Placing blame doesn’t help the situation. The customer is only voicing their grievance and seeking a solution.
  • Empathize – Put yourself in the customer’s shoes and seek to understand how they feel. Expressing your understanding demonstrates that you care and makes the customer feel heard. 
  • The customer is always right – Although you may not always agree with what a dissatisfied customer is saying, the customer is always right. That doesn’t mean they are correct, but without happy customers your business will not exist for long. So, make every effort to address customer grievances with respect.

How to Respond to Customer Complaints

Handling customer complaints isn’t difficult, especially if you prepare ahead of time. Take the following steps when receiving negative customer feedback. You’ll successfully navigate the situation through to resolution, transforming an unhappy customer to a customer for life.

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Listen carefully to the customer

It’s easy to want to cut a customer short when expressing dissatisfaction, especially if it is a complaint you have heard before. But it’s best not to interrupt. You need to hear them out to fully understand what they are trying to tell you. Don’t assume that you know what they are going to say—you may or may not be correct. And not allowing them to tell their entire story may only serve to upset them further.

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Ask clarifying questions for additional context

Once the customer has finished sharing their feedback, it’s time to ask questions to fill in the gaps and provide additional context around what occurred. This ensures you understand the situation well enough to address the issue sufficiently with the appropriate corrective measures.

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Formulate a solution

Regardless of if you are receiving a complaint in person, on the phone, via email, or over social media, you need to determine the best course of action. Carefully consider the most appropriate way to resolve the issue or make up for any inconvenience caused by the poor experience or product shortcoming. 

This can be tricky in person or over the phone since walking away to think or putting an unhappy customer on hold isn’t a good idea. So, it’s best to prepare resolution options ahead of time by anticipating the types of issues that could arise. Then you and your staff will be on the same page and won’t miss a beat when presented with a specific customer grievance.

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Say Thank you

Since such a small percentage of unhappy customers take the time to share their grievances, it’s important to say “Thank You” when receiving their feedback. This demonstrates that you value their input and their business. Otherwise, you might have lost them as customers and wouldn’t know about the issue, potentially leading to a recurrence. Their input enables you to correct the issue and increase customer satisfaction as well as improve your product or service.

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Not only do you want to express appreciation for customer input, but it’s also important to apologize for the inconvenience or issue. Whatever they experience, you need them to know that their satisfaction is important and that you are sorry that your business fell short.

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Explain whats next

At this point it’s time to share the corrective steps you’ll take to resolve the issue or remedy the situation. They need to understand how you will address their grievance to make it right.

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Once next steps have been shared with the customer it’s important to confirm they are satisfied with the proposed solution. Then offer reconnection instructions so the customer knows who to contact and how to do so if they continue to experience the problem or have another issue to report. This prevents customer frustration and increases satisfaction.

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Follow up 

Be sure to check back with the customer to confirm the problem has been resolved and that the issue has been corrected to the customer’s satisfaction. If they aren’t satisfied, take the same steps as described above to hear their concerns and address them. Continue this until the customer is happy. 

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Leverage customer feedback

When customers make the effort to express their dissatisfaction, take the time to track the feedback you receive. Then take steps to prevent recurrences of issues as you become aware of them. For product-related feedback this may take a bit longer, but don’t ignore customer input, especially when you receive repeated complaints about the same issue. This should tell you that something needs to change about your offering to ensure you continue to win and retain customers.

Learn and Improve from Customer Complaints

Few customers take the time to file a complaint when they are unhappy, so it’s important to be prepared to respond to them properly when they arise. Taking the time to understand and remedy the situation helps retain happy, satisfied customers. This makes it easier to grow your business and protects your bottom line from taking a hit. Plus, your business’ reputation will be elevated when you take these steps.

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A special high five to Margot Howard for her outstanding research and contributions to this article. We love working with and supporting like-minded entrepreneurs who are passionate about business success strategies. Thank you Margot! ❤️

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