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

Customers want to feel heard and understood, so when they experience a problem and leave a complaint, they expect a timely response. But if their complaint goes unaddressed for too long, the message conveyed is that they’re ignored and undervalued — leading to an erosion of trust and a negative view of your business. The customer can even get so frustrated that they abandon your business altogether. 

When you respond promptly and effectively to customer complaints, it shows that you value their feedback and take their concerns seriously. Addressing complaints quickly helps turn a negative experience into a positive one, with customers more likely to feel satisfied with the outcome and even become loyal customers. Over time, customer loyalty leads to positive reviews and word-of-mouth referrals, which can ultimately increase your customer base and revenue.

So, exactly how fast should you respond to a customer complaint? In a perfect world, it’s as soon as possible. But sometimes it’s a little more nuanced than that. Let’s dive in.

How fast should you respond to a customer complaint?

According to recent data, 90% of customers rate an “immediate” response as important or very important when they have a customer service question, with 60% defining “immediate” as 10 minutes or less. Younger consumers aged 16 to 24 place a particularly high value on fast responses, with 71% saying it can drastically improve the customer experience.

Many small businesses attempt an immediate response by dealing with complaints as they come in — in real time. But as your business grows and your communication channels begin to multiply and fragment, responding in real time becomes much harder. For example, in addition to taking complaints by phone, there could also be text, social media, chatbots, and email to monitor. Bottom line: how fast you can respond to a customer complaint will largely be determined by the number and type of communication channels you use. 

To find out the optimal response time according to consumers, we decided to do our own survey and ask a more representative group of consumers what their expectations were. The question we asked of a sample (n=480) of U.S. adults was simple:

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


The answers were somewhat more lenient than expected. The fact that almost one-third of respondents indicated that three days were soon enough and another 12.5% were satisfied with a week was surprising. But in general, the majority (38%) feel it’s important to respond within one day, and almost 18% expect a response within a few hours or even sooner. 

How fast you respond to a customer complaint is a major indicator of how much you value and respect your customers. In fact, two-thirds of adults think that the most important thing a brand can do to provide a good customer experience is to value their time. 

The speed of your response can also influence your revenue. As one study showed, consumers who get a resolution to their complaint in five minutes or less will end up spending more with the business on future purchases. Good customer service in general boosts revenue as well, with 88% of customers saying it’s more likely to make them purchase again.

There’s also a difference between how small and large companies handle customer complaints with respect to time. When dealing with large organizations or companies with a national presence that generally don’t prioritize complaint resolution, it can take customers anywhere from three to seven days to get an initial response. 

But for most businesses, that time frame really isn’t ideal. For the consumer, the more distressing and troublesome the problem, the sooner they expect a response along with assurance that the problem is being resolved — and a three-to-seven-day window isn’t going to cut it. 

More expectations around customer complaints

The means by which the customer originally communicated their complaint is the biggest factor in their expectations for the speed of the response. When communicating in person or on a call, they are likely to expect a fast response to the customer complaint, whereas communicating over email means they’re likely to expect some delays and even some possible back and forth before a resolution is given.

Keep in mind that with both in-person and phone communication, the risk for your business is if your team becomes reactive to the confrontation and lets their emotions control the conversation rather than reason. 

Sometimes it’s really difficult to put yourself into the right headspace when there’s a distraught human in front of you and you’re feeling attacked. That’s why in some cases, a fast response to the customer complaint may not be the best course of action, and a delayed resolution tactic may be more beneficial instead. As a marketing expert once pointed out in some excellent advice: If the customer remains angry, get their contact info and call them back, and give them a short time frame when you’ll do so. Trying to resolve a problem with an angry customer is far too difficult and can backfire.

Using a delay tactic like this gives the customer some time to cool down. Just as importantly, it gives you more time to thoroughly understand the situation and think through an appropriate response and resolution, so you can communicate in a tone that best represents the business and better manage the interaction. 

It doesn’t mean, however, handing the customer off to multiple people. A third of consumers say the most frustrating aspect of getting help from customer service is having to repeat the problem to other representatives. If you have to get someone else involved, make sure they have the full details of the complaint and all other pertinent information.

5-step complaint response process and advice

As we’ve pointed out, how fast you can respond to complaints is going to be dependent on the channel in which you receive it, as well as the nature, details, and complexity of the problem. But in general, here are five rules to apply to your complaint response process:

1. Start and control the process

This might sound counterintuitive, but you can actually start and control the complaint process yourself, rather than leave it solely up to the customer. You can do this by proactively sending a customer feedback survey to each of your customers. If a complaint comes back, you can have more control over the tone, the timing, and the forum for resolving the complaint. 

While it’s still important to provide a fast response to the customer complaint, the customer will appreciate that you initiated the conversation in the first place and give you the benefit of the doubt as to the timeframe you need for solving it.

2. Make complaints easy

In addition to proactively surveying your customers, it’s important to make it super easy for them to share their opinions and frustrations through the channels they prefer. Ensure your customers are aware that you’re able to take feedback via email, text, your website, phone, a chat tool if you use one, and/or in person. 

Offering a variety of channels for giving and receiving feedback is critical to making your customers feel comfortable sharing a problem they experienced and confident that someone is paying attention and will respond.

3. Set a complaint response and resolution time goal

How fast you should respond to a customer complaint is ultimately up to your business and available resources. As our survey shows, many consumers allow for a window of a few days for a business to respond. But the sooner you respond, the better it is for your business and customers. Set a standard for your team that lays out both an initial response time and a resolution time — and then strive to achieve those times. 

Though it may not be feasible in every case, our survey data suggests that if you respond within the hour and resolve the majority of complaints within the day, you will be on the right side of your customers.

4. Make sure you understand the complaint

That being said, responding quickly shouldn’t take precedence over understanding the complaint. Giving a fast response to a customer complaint that doesn’t actually address the problem just so you can meet a time goal is only going to set you back with the customer — and cost you more time and headaches in the long run. 

The initial response can be fast — something like “Thank you for your feedback. We received your complaint and will follow up ASAP.” But then take a moment to process the situation and put yourself in the customer’s shoes before giving an actual resolution. This will help you be less defensive and come up with a workable action plan, while still aiming to meet your resolution time standards. 

5. Be apologetic and clear about the resolution

Every response to a complaint should begin with an apology. It’s also a good idea to reiterate to the customer your understanding of what happened so they know you’re listening. Finally, be clear about what you plan to do to resolve the complaint — even if a few steps are involved. Remember: how fast to respond to a customer complaint is a worthy consideration and speed is always important, but so is giving a clear, satisfactory resolution as well.

With practice and confidence, your team can get into a rhythm with complaint resolution that’s efficient for everyone. Following these guidelines will help you ensure you’re not only resolving complaints quickly but also effectively.

To learn how GatherUp can support your business with gathering, responding to, and analyzing customer feedback, start your free trial today.

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