Simple ways to handle complaints at your small business

Chloe Bell
By Chloë Bell, Content Journalist

Dealing with complaints quickly and efficiently will go a long way to improving customer relationships moving forward. But handling a customer complaint is rarely easy. Although there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach to sorting issues, there are certainly few things you can do as a business owner to diffuse a bad situation.

Your customers make your business, so you want to ensure you’re giving them the service they deserve. And listening to criticism can help you avoid future problems and might even make your business more efficient and productive in the long run.

Let’s take a look at what you can do if a customer complains, and how dealing with them in the right way can help to cement your relationship with them.

How to deal with customer complaints as a small business owner

The way you deal with complaints can have a lasting impact on your business. Here are some things to consider when dealing with a disgruntled customer.

Always take complaints seriously

If a customer complains about your business, you need to take it seriously and try to put things right.

Although the term ‘the customer is always right’ isn’t necessarily true, as a business owner you should make it your mission to give your customers a chance to explain why they are unhappy. Is the complaint about staff behaviour, an item not as described or something you physically cannot control (like a delay via the post)?

You need to take each complaint as seriously as possible and decipher what the issue is, how it can be sorted and how you can gain the customer’s trust back. It might even be worth arranging a chat with the complaining customer to get all the details you need and reassure them you’re doing all you can to resolve the matter.

This is where it’s important to always keep tabs on your customer touchpoints. For example, if a customer has complained online via TrustPilot or Google Reviews, it’s good practice to comment back as soon as you can. Gather more information and then ask to message them privately. If they came into store to raise an issue, then try to be available for a chat and listen to their concerns face-to-face.

See how you can help

Even if the problem does not lie directly with your business, try to be as helpful as possible and see where you can help.

It can help to place the customer  complaint into one of two categories:

  • Things you can control - Look into what can be done to rectify their unhappiness. Maybe if a product arrived broken you could send out a replacement item. If the customer had a negative staff experience, could you speak to the staff member to find out what happened and take it from there?
  • Things you can’t control – If you’ve been affected by late delivery because of postal strikes or courier delays, then see what you can do anyway. Can you chase up the courier for the customer? Still try to help and offer a backup solution should the parcel not arrive in a few days. For more specific info on what to do if your customers are being affected by postal strikes, have a read of our useful guide about how to tackle delivery issues.

Document everything

When dealing with a customer complaint, it’s important to document everything. Every staff member who has had dealings with the customer should record their version of events.

It’s great practice to set up an online spreadsheet of ongoing and completed complaints, then you can see which customers still need helping.

Spreadsheets are also handy to look back over the year and see if there’s any patterns. Are there specific things that multiple customers are complaining about? For example, are certain items you’re selling lacking in quality and breaking after first use? Or are more complaints being made on specific days when certain staff members are serving?

You can analyse the information easily when it’s all laid out in front of you and see how to improve your products and services in the future.

Show your appreciation

Always thank the customer for their complaint, no matter what the content is. Even if it may seem counterproductive to thank someone for saying negative things about your business.

By acknowledging and speaking to the customer, you’re treating them with the respect they deserve. They will then hopefully grant you the same level of courtesy. Plus, complaints are an excellent way to learn more about your business and correct any teething problems you might be having.

It might be a good plan to set up an automatic email that gets sent out immediately after a customer puts in a complaint, just so they know you’ve noted their issue and will deal with it in due course. Usually, customers are easier to speak to if they know that you have acknowledged them.

Answer social media

This leads onto our final point and links again to keeping an eye on customer touchpoints. Always make sure you’re replying to as many reviews and social media comments as possible, both positive and negative.

It might even be worth hiring a social media manager to do this for you. Negative reviews can have a disastrous effect on your business, that’s why it’s always best to reply and get the full story from the customer. Replying as quickly as you can puts your business in a better light as it shows customers (and potential customers) that you really care about them and their experiences.

Some complaints can be easily sorted, such as simple misunderstandings, but you need to make sure you’re treating all customers with respect and allow them to voice their own opinions.

How to build better relationships

Once you’ve got a handle on dealing with customer complaints, then next step is to ensure your customer relationships are still intact and thriving. Here’s how to go about that.

Communicate with customers

Communication is key to maintaining a great relationship with your customers. Once you’ve dealt with a compliant and the customer is happy-say you’ve sent out a replacement product- why not reach out a couple of weeks later to ensure the new product you’ve sent out is working correctly or if you can offer any more help?

Checking in will make them feel that you really care about their experience and value their custom. It also creates a far more personal service that can go a long way to building brand loyalty.

Focus on customer journey and experience

It’s always useful to regularly check in on your customer experience journey. This way you can see your business through the eyes of your customers.

If you run an ecommerce website, try to buy something and work out whether it’s easy to buy from or if the experience is clunky. Are there more payment options you can add to make it easier for the customer (eg. ApplePay)? Or could changing brand colours and visuals, make everything the customer sees pleasant and memorable?

If you run your business from its own premises, ask people’s opinions on the look and feel of the place, and maybe even get someone to do a mystery shop to ensure customer service is up to scratch.

Try to make the customer experience as special as you can. You can do this in lots of ways, maybe include an inexpensive free gift or handwritten thank you note with orders. Offer a discount code or even a personalised email thanking customers for their support. Little things can make a big impact when building and maintaining relationships.

You can apply this mindset to physical touchpoints too. Make a real effort to make it an enjoyable experience when customers come into your shop, greet them with a smile and a friendly service, and try offering samples or recommendations.

Iron out problems as quickly as possible

It’s important to iron out issues as soon as they arise. This will hopefully stop them from turning into a larger problem. For example, if a few different customers have complained about a specific product or service not being worth the money, take a look into your pricing system instead of risking losing future customers. Really evaluate if your products are unique and worth extra money or not.

Another nice way to build on your current customer relationships is to reward loyalty, are there a group of customers who have bought from you over the years or always sing your praises on social media? If so, why not send them a special thank you discount code or small gift. Customers like to feel appreciated and that they are valued by you as a business so any way you can show them they matter will go a long way to maintaining those positive relationships.

How can Bionic help your business?

At Bionic, we know running a small business can be a juggling act, that’s why we’re on hand to offer advice and tips every step of the way. Plus, we can take care of annoying admin hassle so you can free up your time and spend more hours building your business.  

Bionic can help you save time, hassle, and unnecessary admin when sorting business essentials. We compare business gas and business electricity, as well as business phone and broadband to help make sure you're on the best deals for your business. 

We can also help with business insurance and business finance. Get in touch to find out more.