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8 September 2016

How to turn haters into lovers: 5 steps to deal with customer complaints

It happens to everyone: you buy a nice shirt, a tasty snack or a new vase and when you take a closer look at your purchase at home, you notice that the quality does not meet your expectations at all. Do you send the manufacturer a complaint? And what do you expect from the company by sending this complaint? These days, too few customers inform companies that they are dissatisfied and too many companies do not provide people who introduce a complaint with an adequate solution. By following five simple rules, companies can improve the way they react to customer complaints and turn their haters into lovers.


Research shows that only 4% of US customers do submit a complaint when they are dissatisfied about their purchase1. Of those dissatisfied customers, only one third gets an answer back from the producer². We need to be careful not to translate those results too incautiously to the Belgian customers, as Belgium (97,8%) is scoring slightly better in customer satisfaction than the United States (95,6%)³. However, there are also many Belgian customers who are unhappy about their purchase and don’t receive an adequate solution or answer. As a consequence, customers no longer wish to do business with your company, and even worse, they pass on this negative experience twice as fast as a positive experience4. On the contrary, when dissatisfied customers see their issue resolved quickly and effectively, you can turn them into very loyal customers and even brand advocates.

If you wish to turn your dissatisfied customers around, it is important to set up an accessible costumer complaint service. To ensure that customers can contact you through their preferred channel, an omnichannel approach is recommended.

When the customer’s complaint reaches you well, you can deal with it by following these five guidelines. They will enable you to turn your customer’s negative experience around and to regain his trust:

1. Listen and understand

Take the time to listen to the customer and truly understand what the issue is. Do not interrupt the client and do not get defensive, but paraphrase the customer’s words to show that you have listened.

 2. Apologize and empathize

Apologize sincerely to the customer and empathize with his position to create a bond. The customer needs to feel that you’re on his side.

3. Offer a solution

Offer a solution to the customer. Focus on what you can do rather than on what you cannot do and indicate a time frame.

4. Execute the solution

Execute the solution within the given timeframe. Try to add a personal touch to the solution, like a handwritten note.

5. Follow up

Make sure the customer is satisfied with the solution.

Try to reply as quickly as possible, with an absolute maximum of 24 hours after receipt of the complaint. If you do not immediately have a solution you can inform the client you received his complaint and you will offer a solution within a given time frame.

You can adapt and formalize these steps for your company to ensure that every employee reacts the same way. Think about having a contingency plan in place for customer complaints. How can you offer your clients an appropriate solution? Create something you can quickly and easily offer as a consolatory gesture, such as vouchers or a free product. Keep track of your complaints, this will provide you with valuable information on how to improve your business.

Finally, remember that it is impossible to prevent all complaints. However, by employing these steps you can turn an unfavorable situation into a positive outcome for both you and your customer.



“Understanding Customers” by Ruby Newell-Legner

“Hug your haters” by Jay Baer

3 Benchmark customer satisfaction 2015

4 White House Office of Consumer Affairs