Dealing with
Customer Complaints



Here are some tips when dealing with customer complaints. Consumer complaints causes stress to the consumer and the business receiving the complaint.

This page helps relieves the stress because it provides an approach to handle business complaints. I discuss the reasons not to ignore issues, the information to include in the initial response, the reasons for requesting additional information, and the reasons to log the issue. The end of this article has multiple links to resolving the complaint.

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To Ignore or Not To Ignore

When a customer complains about a product (whether the complaint is valid or not) do not ignore the issue. If you choose to ignore, you immediately start to generate negative feelings with the customer. These negative feelings include resentment and anger.

Customers will persist for you to address the issue. If you ignore the problem, then when you finally make contact with the customer you not only deal with the problem, but you must diffuse the negative feelings. This makes it tough when trying to find the facts. An upset customer may not clearly state the issue or provide all necessary information. When customers are emotional about a problem, emotions overwhelm reason.

Lets say you decide to ignore the issue, how can the customer combat this? In this day and age its easy for the customer to get suppliers attention. How?

The customer can call the company and ask for the name of the quality manager. The customer can directly call this person to complain. If this fails, the customer can contact the quality manager’s boss for action.

If the company still fails to respond to the customer, the customer has other outlets. They can make a negative post on a website. Amazon has tons of customer reviews. Many other sites also allows for reviews for specialize products. For me, one negative review regarding customer service, prevents me from buying that product. However, if the supplier dealt with the issue, and the review documented this, then I’d be much more likely to buy that product.

Customers can also vent through social websites such as Twitter, Facebook, Linked-in, etc. Today, negative complaints spread quickly. Very Quickly! If you ignore the issue, when you finally decide to address the problem, you have to address the negative press, which makes your work (or your company’s) tougher. What started out as a small problem, can become an ordeal.


Initial Contact

When dealing with customer complaints, respond quickly to the customer. How fast? Many experts recommend 24 hours. I recommend 1 hour. The initial response can be just an acknowledgment of the issue and a request for additional information. Try to be apologetic and show empathy for the issue. For example “We are sorry to hear about the problem, we will do our best to resolve the issue”.

At this time do not admit fault. It may not be your company’s problem. It could be misuse by the customer or something that occurred between the time it left your dock and the time the customer received the product.

Many companies use auto complaint responders to meet the 1 hour criteria. The buyer fills in a complaint web-form on the website and the auto-responder provides a response that someone soon will be in contact with them. This is Ok as long as a human writes the next response within 24 hours, directly addresses the issue, and the email is apologetic and shows empathy.

If your company uses auto responders, make the complaint web-form easy to find. I become perturb when I have to read more than 2 web pages to find the complaint web-form, If this is the case, it seems to me it, the company purposely makes it difficult to communicate with their customers.

If there is a product FAQ, that should be found within 2 clicks after the user locates the product info. One of the FAQ top answers should cover directions to the complaint web-form.

When dealing with customer complaints, many times the consumer complaints are sent through customer service. It is important customer service, as soon as they read the email or puts down the phone, immediately forwards the information to the department responsible for complaints. Ingrain this attack mode into the customer service rep’s or first person who sees the complaint mind. When dealing with customer complaints, do not sit on the issue, take action!


Complaint Department

When dealing with customer complaints, who handles complaints within your company? Every company is different. For small companies it may be the owner. For larger companies the complaint department is most likely Quality Assurance. Those companies that have a Quality Assurance department understand that QA represents the voice of the customer.

Many companies have systems that include triggers for business complaint levels. For example if the issue deals with the lack of delivery, customer service may directly handle the issue. If there is a labeling issue, shipping department may fix and address the complaint. Product defects could be resolved by QA. When dealing with customer complaints, every company is different.

The most important thing with regards to triggers is to define the flow. Document the triggers with flowchart or detailed procedures. Make sure everyone understands their role when dealing with customer complaints.


Request For More Information

Within the initial contact, request additional information from the customer. When dealing with customer complaints, the complaining party may not provide enough info for you to start the complaint investigation. In addition, this request provides you time to start internally addressing the issue. The request time allows you to get your hands around the problem.

The customer may have initially provided you with all the necessary information to formally investigate, but when dealing with customer complaints, always ask for more information. This request starts a beneficial dialog between you and your customer. It lets the customer know your on top of the situation. It helps prevent your customer from writing about the issue on external websites.

In some cases you may request for specific traceability information with regards to the product. Ask for serial numbers, lot numbers, date codes, retail information. Ask information with regards to the events that caused the problem. You can have the customer provide pictures of the issue.

If possible, when dealing with customer complaints, have the customer send the defect back to you for analysis. This lets you actually examine the product with your tools. It also gives you more time to deal with the problem and investigate the issue internally.


Log the Issue

No matter the business complaint, whether your company created the problem, or customer misuse, when dealing with customer complaints, always log the problem. I recommend 8D Manager for this.

Logging the issue lets you analyze trends. For example, if you see numerous issues that were caused by the customer, you can help prevent this. You can use product labels to remind the customer of certain mistakes or include instructions that cover the issue.

Logging also lets you track issues for all customers. Logging lets you know if you resolved the issue. Complaint software such as 8D Manager lets you know the steps taken to resolve the issue.

When dealing with customer complaints, tracking all the issues prevents repeating the same issues. It also prevent you repeating the same statements to your customer for problems.


Resolving the Issue

Here are some links that cover the steps to solving customer complaints.

When dealing with customer complaints, follow the 8D problem solving process.

For more on the 8D process see this article on 8D Eight Discipline approach.

See this article on containment theory for isolating parts that have the defect.

See this article on root cause corrective action.

If you are pursuing ISO 9001 certification see this article on corrective and preventive action management.

Another article on corrective action forms tips and tricks.

Sample of customer complaint letter.

Review of complaint tracking software





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