When a Customer Complains

So you are in business.  You sell stuff, you build stuff, other people pay you to do stuff for them because they don’t know how, don’t have the time or don’t want to get their own hands dirty.  Or you entertain them.  And so, you need customers, and lots of them.  You work hard and spend a lot of money advertising your business to get these customers.  You even love your customers.  Most of them love you, too.

But then along comes a customer who doesn’t love you and your business anymore. You thought you were so good together, but apparently they did not. They have a complaint, and now you have a headache.  What happened?

Honestly, any number of things could have gone wrong.  Or maybe nothing went wrong at all but this customer has an angle, maybe a plan to get something for nothing.

Here’s the most common types of complaints businesses get:

  • Misleading sales presentations
  • Poor or inadequate service
  • Unethical or unclear billing practices
  • Rude representatives
  • Slow or no response to issues
  • Unfulfilled expectations
  • Misleading advertising
  • Bait and Switch schemes

Of course there’s more, depending on the individual businesses out there and all the variations therein, but these are the major categories.

You know how to run your business.  You do the best you can.  But even the best efforts can fail sometimes since we’re all just humans.  We have days when we’re not on our game for some reason, but, by and large, you tend to get things right almost all of the time.  Then along comes a complaint, out of the blue to shake your confidence.  If the complainer doesn’t get satisfaction, especially if it involves money and they think you owe them, you’ll probably get a BBB complaint or a bad review somewhere out there in cyberspace.  If nothing else, the customer is going to bad-mouth your enterprise to anyone who will listen and certainly never use your business again.  You don’t need this.  Your reputation is all important to your business.  So how do you best deal with your unsatisfied, even angry, customer?

First of all, you have to determine if the complaint is legitimate and the cure reasonable.  Of course, if the complaint is reasonable, you know you need to fix it in a reasonable manner.  The Letterista already presumes you are not one of “those” kinds of companies.  You know, the ones that give your entire industry a bad rep.  The Letterista has this to say to “those” types of businesses, “Stop being crooks and making everyone else in your industry suffer for your fraud.  If you think you’re getting ahead in the world by doing a job on your innocent customers, well, you might succeed in the short run, but it can’t last.  You ruin your street cred, you deserve what you get.  The Letterista herself is a review-writing machine, so she can be your best friend or your worst enemy.”

Anyway, we’ll address the issue of how to fix things once you’ve screwed up in upcoming posts.  It can be tough, but you’ll learn from those tough times and get through them.  You’ll even come out stronger and your reputation will gleam like gold.

But what if the complaint is not legitimate?  Or there was a problem but the solution the customer is asking for is not reasonable?  Then what?

This is where a proper response is critical.  If the complaint came through the BBB, your response must be written such that even the Better Business Bureau agents will pull for you.  Often, the BBB employees are a bit more sympathetic to complainers than to the business right out of the gate, but if you can show that the complaint is bogus and show it with a very professional demeanor, you will begin to develop a reputation at the BBB that will engender due respect.  When BBB employees themselves hold your business in high esteem, they’ll not only be more amenable to your perspective, they’ll recommend you to their own families and friends.  When that happens, you know you run one heck of a good business.  You can’t buy that kind of goodwill.

Now, if a customer notified you of an issue, and you knew you were in the wrong, the problem should have never even gone as far as a BBB complaint, at all, because you would have dealt with it already.  If your customer complained anyway, then the odds are very high that the customer is trying to get something for nothing from you.  They may well be professional BBB complainers, having found that this system gets them out of having to pay bills fairly often.  (The Letterista wishes some very enterprising people would develop a BCB, Better Customer Bureau, so businesses could check out customers for how often they make complaints on various businesses they have patronized.  Wouldn’t it be great if there were an easy and public rating system like EBay’s where customers are rated by sellers just as sellers are rated by buyers?  Hmmm.)

At any rate, maybe the customer notified your business of an issue verbally or by letter, not through the BBB.  Again, if you know you could have done better, by all means, fix it if you can.  But if the complaint is bogus, you need to address it right away before it becomes a BBB complaint or bad review, and you must do so in writing.  Document everything from this point forward.  Now is the time to stop talking over the phone and go straight to paper or email that can be printed out and saved to a paper file.

Everything the customer has to say from here on out until the issue is resolved needs to be committed to paper or email and saved.  If the issue, for some reason, ever ends up in court, you don’t want to be stammering like a fool because you forgot what you said or can’t prove what you or the customer said.  In a “he said, she said” situation, they judge is more likely to empathize with the one who paid out money.  That probably won’t be you.

In summary, if your complainer has a valid claim against your business, then get on it right away and fix it, aplogizing all the way.  If the desired resolution is not reasonable, then stay tuned.  We’ll address that problem, too, in upcoming posts.  If the claim is unreasonable, stop the informal communications and start writing letters instead.  Good letters.  Professional letters.

The Letterista has much experience at writing letters of this type and has a lot of advice to offer.  Visit again soon for another chapter in how, and why, to write the best professional letters to protect your business reputation.

Published by

The Letterista

Throughout The Letterista's adult life, she has been an employee for several employers in both retail and contract fulfillment (private contract companies); she's been a private contractor and a small business owner, as well. A great many years were spent managing the offices of a construction trade where the competition was thick and the stakes were high, so the proper, professional handling of complaints and bad reviews was more than just a little important. The skills of good documentation and letter-writing were finely honed in that environment. Now, she writes for fun and profit.

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