Dealing with Complaining Customers

I had an experience recently where I had cause to complain about a product to its manufacturer. This particular product is an iPhone Twitter application, and its maker it a prominent Twitter user. I emailed them with my comments and got no reply. Next day I saw a tweet from them thanking a mentor who was “instrumental in the products success”.

I replied to the tweet with a simple comment that perhaps customers were also instrumental and that I (along with many others) want a particular feature.

Again, the silence has been deafening.

All businesses have customers (hopefully), and sometimes customers complain. Lets face it, things go wrong, and a complaining customer is one that is willing to engage in a conversation with you about your offering. In other words, dealing with complaining customers is a key moment of truth and can be a great opportunity to delight the customer!

This leads me to ask a key question: what are three ways that businesses can respond to a customer complaint? While there may be other possibilities, in my experience businesses tend to deal with complaints in one of three ways.

  1. They acknowledge the complaint and work with the customer to rectify the situation;
  2. They ignore the complaint and hope it will go away; or
  3. They deny the problem and argue with the customer, telling them that they’re wrong.

Of the three ways of dealing with a complaint, it should be fairly easy to see that there’s one approach that is markedly better than the other two! Yet the two poor responses are quite common.

Generally customers tend to understand that problems and issues can occur. They can get frustrated very quickly when the issues aren’t acknowledged, or when they happen repeatedly without being addressed. On the other hand, if customers believe that a business listens to them and takes action to address the issue they may actually have a positive experience.

Sometimes (possibly often) a customer’s “issue” may be because of a lack of knowledge, misunderstanding and/or misuse. There is rarely, if ever, any benefit to be gained from telling a customer that they’re wrong! Working through the problem with the customer may be the best approach. A business can learn a lot about how people use its offerings if they learn from these encounters.

The second approach – ignoring the complaint and hoping it will go away – is often successful! The complaint often does go away, usually taking the customer along with it. In my case, I now use a different Twitter client for both my iPhone and my Mac desktop (I use and recommend Echofon)

Denying the problem, or labelling it one of customer misuse, is poor form. Customers often use products in ways different to how a business may have designed it. While it might be technically correct to label this is as a non-issue, a business misses a golden opportunity to discover new features and products that might lead to new business. Customers generally don’t buy products for their design, but because they meet their needs.

Lessons for the Customer Experience

  1. Acknowledge customer complaints and work hard to resolve the issue
  2. Communicate with the customer to let them know you care
  3. Explore the complaints for new opportunities

There are three ways that a business can address customer complaints, with one of them being the positive response that acknowledges the complaint and sets the scene to address it. See any complaints as a golden opportunity to communicate with your customer and learn more about how you can serve them.


Photography enthusiastic, writer, hiker and diving geek from Canberra (and Sydney), Australia. Thoughts and opinions are my own.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Close Menu