SURVEY: How Quickly Should A Business Respond to a Complaint?

In June, Mike Blumenthal takes a deep look at customer complaints with a series of articles.  View all of the posts covering strategy, ideas, customer insight, survey data and more to improve how your business handles customer complaints.

A critical element in resolving complaints is demonstrating your willingness to solve the problem by responding quickly. But consumers may offer you more leeway than you had previously thought in terms when they expect you to resolve the issue.

complaint response time

The Timing Of Complaint Response

Most small businesses attempt to deal with complaints in real time but as your business grows and as the communication channels into your business fragment (phone, text, social media, email) that becomes harder.

But what is the optimal time from a consumer point of view? I am just one consumer and not a very good one at that so I decided to ask a more representative group of consumers what their expectations were.

The question I asked of a sample (n=480) of US adults was simple:

When you complain to a local merchant how long is reasonable for them to respond & resolve?


The answers were somewhat more lenient than I expected. The fact that almost 1/3 of respondents indicated that 3 days was soon enough and another 12.5% were satisfied with a week surprised me.

I know when dealing with national organizations who generally don’t prioritize complaint resolution it can take anywhere from 3 to 7 days for a first response. But for most businesses that really isn’t ideal.

I also know as a consumer that the more distraught and troublesome the problem, the sooner I expect a response to begin to resolve the problem and that the 3 to 7 day window leaves me feeling very cold.

Consumers Prefer Communicating In Person

We also surveyed consumers to understand their preferred method of communicating a complaint and clearly they would rather do it face to face. Their assumes that they initiated the complaint, are driving the process and that they felt more comfortable expressing the issues in person. But an in person and on the phone both run the risk of the business letting emotions control the conversation rather than your “better person” and reason.

If you have a complaint with a local merchant how would you prefer to express it to the business?

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The means by which the customer communicated their complaint will also be a factor in consumer expectations for the speed. When in person or on a call the customer is likely to expect immediate answers while email is likely to have an expectation of somewhat more delay and possible back and forth.

Sometimes it is hard to put yourself “in the right headspace” when you are face to face with a distraught human being and you are feeling attacked. In this case some short delay can be a tactic that works to your benefit. As Nicholas McDonough of Verbatim Marketing Agency pointed out in his excellent adviceIf the customer remains angry, capture their info and call them back. Give them a short time frame. Trying to resolve a problem with an angry person will be far too difficult.

This will give the customer some time to cool down and give you the time to think through your response and answer in a voice that best represents the business. You can more easily understand the situation, think through the appropriate resolution AND manage the interaction.

Complaint Response Timing, Process & Advice

The final decision on your response is very much dependent on the details and complexity of the problem and the nature of your business.

I’ll give you three simple rules to help serve your complaint response process:

1- Start and Control The Process

My suggestion  is that you start and control the complaint process rather than leaving it to chance. Survey every customer and invite their feedback. When you start the process by asking for feedback and you solicit a complaint you will have more control of the tone, the timing and the forum for resolving the complaint. The customer will appreciate that you initiated the conversation and give you the benefit of the doubt as to timeframe for solving it. (Use GetFiveStars to accomplish this!)

2- Set a Complaint Response and Resolution Time

Our survey shows many consumers have a window of days for your to respond, but the sooner the better for your business and your customer. Set a standard for your business and team to have both an initial response time and then a resolution time.

From our survey data I’d suggest it appears that if you can respond within the hour and resolve the majority of complaints within the day, you will be on the right side of your consumers.

complaint timing

3- Make Complaints Easy

While this ties in with my first point, it’s also important to offer an easy way for customers to share their opinion or frustrations through the channels THEY prefer.  Making your customers aware you want and take feedback via email, text/SMS, your website, phone and in person is critical to making them feel comfortable doing so with ease.

Take these three tips into account and hopefully all the while keeping your cool AND keeping your customer.




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