Health and Harmony in the Workplace: Effective Complaint Management

Grace Marks

Complaints happen. It’s impossible to please all of your customers all of the time. Complaints provide valuable feedback about the performance of a business. They can be a powerful signal for action.

Studies indicate up to 95 percent of customers will give you a second chance if you handle their complaint successfully and in a timely manner. Effective complaint management actually costs a company 10-20 percent less than losing the customer.

With the explosion of social media, businesses are paying closer attention to complaints in their quest to have better customer relationships and to improve their bottom line. 

Eight Steps for Effective Complaint Management

1) Listen and Let the Customer Speak. The first step is always to listen carefully to what the customer is saying without interruption. It’s important to avoid getting defensive or show any frustration by rolling your eyes or sighing. Never say:  you’re wrong or you don’t understand—those remarks just fuel the fire. Even if the customer is irate and yelling, do not take their comments personally. The customer is angry at the situation, not you.

2) Seek to Understand. If an angry customer is not clearly describing their problem, try asking open ended questions to draw out more usable information. Asking qualifying questions can have a calming effect as complaining customers begin to understand that you are truly interested in their problem and finding a solution.

3) Apologize and Empathize. Say you’re sorry even if it was not your fault. Never blame another person or department. An apology should convey that you are genuinely sorry the customer had a bad experience. Putting yourself in their shoes helps the customer feel you understand and you’re on their side. Empathy phrases include: I can see why you feel that way, that would be upsetting, or I can understand how frustrating that must be.

4) Explore Solutions. Focus on what you can do rather than what you cannot. Do your best to resolve the situation without passing the buck. Research indicates that customers prefer the person they are speaking with to instantly solve their problem. When complaints are moved up the chain of command, they become more expensive to handle and only add to the customer's frustration.

5) Get the Right Help. If you are unable to find a solution, quickly find someone who can. Tell the customer why you are referring or transferring them to someone else and that it’s to their benefit. Instead of saying, you need to speak with someone else; say, I will transfer or refer you to _____, our specialist who can better assist you with this specific issue.

6) Thank the Customer. Thank customers for their patience and for bringing the complaint to your attention. Express that the company strives to improve their services and their feedback is valuable. This helps the customer feel better about having voiced their opinion and being heard and understood.

7) Follow Up. If possible, follow up with the customer to make sure they are satisfied with the resolution. This small step can lead to repeat business and a loyal customer who will recommend your business to others.

8) Learn from Complaints. Tracking customer complaints and the resolutions can identify potential flaws in the system and steps for correction. Ignoring them can jeopardize a businesses’ reputation and hurt the bottom line. Complaints also serve as a valuable training tool for employees on how to deal effectively with specific customer situations.

Even with the most difficult of customer situations, recognize that it’s impossible to control people’s behavior, only how you respond. Breathe deeply, have a mantra handy such as this isn’t about me, and stay positive knowing an amazing customer can be just around the corner.

Grace Marks, MPH, CPC, is a certified life coach, motivational speaker, and workplace makeover specialist with Native Empowerment: Solutions for Health and Harmony providing customized training programs for tribal organizations and businesses. If you have any questions or comments, please direct them to [email protected] or visit



Isadora Dahlen's picture
Isadora Dahlen
Submitted by Isadora Dahlen on

Excellent points and simple to do. If I don't feel heard or the problem doesn't get resolved, I'll never do business with them again...and I'll tell everybody I know not to do business with them either. Great article.