A Fresh Approach To Complaint Handling

There is a standard procedure for handling a complaint:


  • Show sympathy but only for the fact the customer is upset. Do not apologise for the complaint itself until you know it is your fault
  • “I’m sorry you are upset, tell me what the problem is”
  • Listen – do not interrupt let the person get it off their chest
  • Ask questions – open (what, when, where, how, who, why) not closed (Yes or No)
  • Establish the facts. Do not make excuses or justify why
  • Agree a course of action that is acceptable to you and the customer
  • Make sure the action is carried out
  • Keep the customer informed
  • Complete the complaint paperwork and return it to the correct department

When dealing with complaints be solution minded, do not say what you cannot do, tell the customer what you are going to do.

Own the problem – do not pass it on.

A  dissatisfied customer tells 11-13 people about the way they feel; whilst every happy customer only tells 3.

In the UK people complain with their feet.  Having no complaining customers does not mean all your customers are happy.  It means things are not quite bad enough, yet.

Research conducted by McGraw-Hill revealed that the reason why 68% of customers changed suppliers was nothing to do with the quality of product or service.  It was because the customers felt:  “The company did not seem to care and did not communicate with me”

The way you handle unhappy customers should not be seen as a separate ‘problem’ area.  The complaint handling procedure should be laid down and worked out with clear reporting and feedback systems.


A Complaint Handling System

The system should reveal:

  • How many complaints
  • Nature of complaint
  • Justified or not
  • Was the complaint product centred (material service) or person centred (personal service)
  • proposed action
  • customer attitude post-complaint handling

Many customers see the way you handle a complaint as the test of your commitment to the things you practice and preach about customer care.

Terminology is very important in the way you (a) handle complaints and (b) the way complaints are treated inside your organisation.  See complaint handling form as an example of turning a complaint (problem) into action (opportunity).