8 Steps for Dealing with Customer Complaints

These customers are furious.

They’re riled up and eager to spread the word about the terrible way CarelonRx does business. Here’s the thing about negative reviews, and dealing with customer complaints. They’re terrible either way. If you’re guilty, what can you say other than ‘I’m sorry, please let us fix this?’ If you’re innocent, how do you get customers to believe you? 

It’s a disaster. 

How do you deal with customer complaints like this? 

Start by understanding who  your reviewers are

Your reviewers aren’t created equal. Understanding who they are is the first step, and your evaluation should be based on two important criteria: 

  • Why reviewers leave reviews
  • What reviewers say in their review

Today, I’m sharing a review response framework that will show you how to deal with customer complaints. 

Let’s examine these two options in more detail to better understand what they mean. 

1. Why reviewers leave reviews

In a recent study by J.M. Rensink, What motivates people to write online reviews, he outlined the seven primary motivations people have for writing reviews. These are the five most relevant: 

  • Vengeance. Your reviewer feels slighted or mistreated. They’ve had a terrible experience with your company, and they’re looking for payback.
  • Anger/anxiety relief. This reviewer is looking for reassurance. Venting about their experience online relieves some of the stress from their recent experience.
  • Solution seeking. Your customer has a problem, but they don’t believe they can come to you with the problem. Sharing their experience online gives them the opportunity to outsource their problem to (seemingly) unbiased reviewers who will help them. 
  • Attempts at altruism. These reviewers feel duty-bound to report the facts of their experience as honestly as possible. They’ll share the juicy details of their experience with you, whether positive or negative.
  • Triggering events. Events and social dynamics drive these reviews. They can be positive or negative, but the key point is that they’re triggered by external activity (e.g., politics, commercials, or a public relations disaster).

What about their review? 

2. What reviewers say in their review

Next, we need to inspect the review itself. We need to analyze our customer’s reviews. Their words communicate intent; are they: 

  • Unhappy: These reviewers have shared their stories outlining why their experience made them unhappy. Their feedback is specific and actionable, with information your company can use to repair and restore the relationship.  
  • Misguided: There’s a misunderstanding somewhere. These customers have fuzzy, implicit, or unrealistic expectations that weren’t met. As a result, they’re angry. From their point of view, their anger is justified.  
  • Dishonest: These reviewers are consistently dishonest. They’re willing to lie to get what they want, whether for vengeance, punishment, or freebies. Whatever it is, they’re willing to destroy your reputation to get it. These dishonest reviewers have no problem turning others against you.
  • Ragers: As the name suggests, these reviewers display a toxic amount of emotional and verbal abuse. These reviewers punish anyone who crosses them—they threaten, bully, smear, and manipulate anyone who goes against their wishes.
  • Trolls: Believe it or not, these reviewers are horrible people. Trolls tend to have the dark-tetrad of personality traits—narcissism, sadism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism. These reviewers don’t have a real purpose behind their comments—they just want to hurt others. 

Why does this matter? 

Understanding your customers’ motivation helps you take the right course of action. If you’re dealing with customer complaints from ragers and trolls, vengeance is probably a more likely motivator. 

Reviewers will tell you who they are if you listen. 

How to deal with customer complaints

You’ll want to use the right workflow to respond to customer complaints. Let’s look at a decision workflow you can use to deal with these customer complaints. 

  1. Your customer writes a review.
  2. Is the review fair and balanced?

Fair and balanced? What does that mean?

It’s a yes or no question.

A fair and balanced review is one in which customers create a well-thought-out and factual response. When appropriate, they cite sources and list references. The customer can agree or disagree with your position, but the review is free from abusive behavior—no name-calling, ad hominem attacks, raging, manipulation, or dishonesty. 

If the review is fair and balanced, you have two options:

  • Respond to your customer’s review
  • Leave it alone

What if your customer’s complaint is unfair and imbalanced? 

What happens then?

Remember the section above highlighting what reviewers say in their feedback? If your customers make a complaint, they’re unhappy, misguided, dishonest, trolls, or ragers. 

If your reviewer is:

  • Unhappy: Work to restore the relationship. This customer has acted in good faith. They have legitimate reasons to be angry.  Work with them; do your very best to address the important issues. If you’re willing to offer concessions or incentives, these reviewers are the ones who deserve it. 
  • Misguided: With misguided reviewers, you want to share the facts. It’s best if the facts come from an objective source—one that hasn’t been edited, comes from a third party, is backed by a reliable source, etc. Expect these reviewers to argue with you and complain. Expect them to tell you, “You don’t understand. Here, let me show you.” 
  • Dishonest: The best way to get rid of these reviewers is to tell the truth and share evidence. Share the truth and expose these reviewers, but don’t get emotional. An emotional response weakens your position. Don’t expect an apology or acknowledgment of guilt. When they’re exposed, the silence from these reviewers is deafening. 
  • Trolling or raging: You’ve probably heard the saying, don’t feed the trolls. This is absolutely true. These reviewers aren’t interested in anything you have to say. In the case of trolls, they’re only interested in a strong, negative emotional reaction from you. They’re looking for a response they can use to prove your ‘badness.’ With ragers, their primary focus is punishment. They want to vent all of their anger, hatred, bitterness, and resentment at you. Nothing you say matters to them. Monitor their reviews but do not engage. Their poor behavior will create a sharp contrast that will work in your favor. Prospective customers will see how you respond to other reviews and note how different customers behave.

Let’s distill this down to a simpler set of concepts.

  1. If your customer is unhappy about a mistake you’ve made, own it and make it right. 
  2. If reviewers are misguided or dishonest, share the facts.
  3. If reviewers are abusive, monitor but do not respond. 

Why are these details important? 

Following these response protocols makes it easier to resist baiting and conflict with customers. It also makes it easier to respond with empathy, transparency, and respect when you know who you’re dealing with.

Dealing with customer complaints

At this point, you know how to profile your reviewers. You know who they are, their motivations, and when to respond. 

How should you respond to reviewers?

Scratch that. 

How should you respond to reviewers so you (a.) Protect your relationship with the customer (b.) Attract new customers (c.) Protect your reputation over time?

  1. Listen to your reviewer: If you truly listen to your customer, you improve mutual understanding. The four types of listening are appreciative (listening for enjoyment), empathic (listening to show mutual concern), comprehensive (listening to gain information), and critical (listening to evaluate). You’ll want to convey that you’ve heard your reviewer when responding to reviews. 
  2. Be transparent: Share any relevant connections. Outline any conflicts of interest. If you have important information that a reasonable person would expect to be disclosed, share it. This obviously wouldn’t apply to personal, confidential, or legally protected information. 
  3. Cite your sources: Cite your sources—use links, content, video, audio, references, etc. to make your case. Give reviewers and lurkers the information they need to verify important details in your response. Make it easy for everyone to verify the information you provide. 
  4. Be timely: Reviewers expect you to respond within 24-48 hours. Aim for responses in minutes or hours, not days. A timely response shows that you’re taking reviewer concerns seriously. While you can’t be everywhere simultaneously, you can prioritize responses using this guide and the 80/20 rule (see below).
  5. Watch your tone: Be warm, kind, respectful, firm, and empathetic. Treat your customers like a close friend or member of the family. Reviewers with complaints will vent their anger and frustrations at you, but everyone expects you to handle their outbursts with grace and empathy. 
  6. Offer next steps: Unhappy or misguided reviewers need next steps. While their review gives them some power, there’s really no way for them to resolve the issues on their own. If you plan on restoring the relationship with your customer, you’ll need to lead them towards a satisfactory outcome. What’s a satisfactory outcome? An apology, ownership of your mistake, and a resolution that makes any wrongs, right. 
  7. Escalate to management: The more serious the offense (from the reviewer’s perspective), the more important it is to escalate the issue to management. This is essential because it shows customers that your company is willing to loop management in to get their problem resolved.
  8. Apply the 80/20 rule: Focus your attention on the review sites with the greatest influence. Start with the big four (Google, Facebook, Yelp, TripAdvisor), then work your way down to niche and industry-specific sites. 

These are simple, straightforward steps you can take to deal with customer complaints. This response framework is incredibly effective but has one major flaw. 

It depends on good character.

Remember, your brand is your reputation, and your reputation relies on character and perception to be effective. Perception is temporary, character is permanent. 

Your business can survive almost anything, if your company has good character. 

Use this framework to deal with customer complaints

Your reviewers aren’t created equal.

You’ll want to use profiling to identify your reviewers. Your evaluation should be based on two important criteria: Why reviewers leave reviews and what reviewers say in their reviews. 

Know who gives you the how.

Analyzing reviewer feedback gives you clarity. Is your reviewer unhappy, misguided, dishonest, or abusive? Use this response framework as a guide. With consistent application, you’ll know how to deal with customer complaints and negative reviews, one reviewer at a time. 

Start Free Trial

GatherUp makes trustworthy customer experiences the backbone of your business. We’ll help you build a continuous cycle of happy customers and powerful reviews to help you capture your next customer.

Comments are closed.



We'll help you build a better business

Our goal is to help you connect with your customers to gain valuable insight on what’s important to them. While you happy customers will help your marketing, your unhappy customers will point out where you can improve and our system will help you communicate with them to keep them with you.