Are you indifferent to complaints?

Feb 9, 2011 by

Complaint Department Grenade

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I recently found myself writing a letter of complaint. It wasn’t an action I took lightly or easily but the more I thought about it, the more I felt I needed to write and alert the business owner to the situation.

I have never received a proper reply,  just  a couple of brief private messages via Twitter and a refund.

Do I feel my complaint was taken seriously? Not in the least, if anything I feel even more let down by the indifference that has been

Will I become an advocate for this company? Not a chance, yet perhaps if this had been handled more sensitively that could have happened.

I don’t believe in name and shame, that’s not the point of this post. However, I do believe in customer service. Whether you feel the customer has a genuine complaint or not you need to remember that it is important to them.

Acknowledge the complaint and be sincere. A complaint isn’t always about the money, it’s about feelings as well. Don’t just offer an insincere apology or refund. Let them know you will investigate further, if relevant advise what steps you have put in place to ensure it isn’t repeated.

Welcome constructive criticism, and whilst the customer may not always be right, at least take notice of what they are saying.

Properly handled, complaints can be positive for your business, and can sometimes result in satisfied customers. Do you have a complaints procedure in place? Do you use it properly if you do?

Your client may not be influential or a celebrity but they do have feelings. And trust me, when you treat them badly  they will share that experience with their network. Although I am too polite to name names in public, many disgruntled customers will not be so considerate and your online brand and reputation can easily be damaged.

Don’t view complaints as hassle but as an opportunity to reverse a customers opinion of you.

So are you indifferent to customer complaints or do you take the time to care? I look forward to your comments.


  1. A good post, as ever – and something I’m quite opinionated on! Clients and customers (relatively) rarely offer businesses positive feedback. Think about it – when was the last time you called a supplier to tell them everything was fine?

    So as you say, complaints are valuable feedback – that said, not all complaints are genuine and I’m not talking about “those ones”. When something really has gone wrong, you need to have a process in place – we investigate and acknowledge (or explain, should it turn out there is a valid reason or a misunderstanding has occurred), then we describe what we will do to make the situation “right” / what we will do to prevent it happening again.

    It doesn’t always mean a refund – that is rarely the best solution to most situations leading to a complaint – what the client/customer really wants is for things to have “gone properly” in the first place; so you need to get them to that state as quickly as possible – returning their money doesn’t always achieve that.

    Customer Care is a vital part of reputation and reputation management. Ignore at your peril. 🙂

  2. Helen

    I actually took the time the other day to write a thank you email to BT. Granted I had already written an epistle on what had gone wrong for my client over the previous six months, but through the past few weeks one member of staff stood out, they followed through on their promises, kept me informed every step of the way and the service far surpassed anything I received from any of their team members. As you say, all too often people don’t say thank you, so I took the time to send a thank you, to ensure that it went to the lady’s supervisor so that it could be recorded on her personnel file. It’s important that we acknowledge when someone has gone the extra mile for us as well.

    Coming from a motor trade background I feel it’s very important to learn from complaints and mistakes. If you order a car in the wrong colour its an expensive mistake. Looking at how it went wrong, and putting procedures in place to prevent recurrence are important. If you learn from complaints or have procedures in place as you do Matt then at the end of the day your company will be the stronger for it.

    I totally agree, it’s not about a refund. In my case it felt like it was a quick way of closing the complaint without the actual content of the complaint being acted upon. The money wasn’t the issue at all. I would much rather have felt that the complaint had been ‘handled’ than received the refund.

  3. The whole point of customer service can be missed if one has a lackadaiscal approach to it. Customer service has actually helped to build my business. Any complaints I’ve had have been turned into stepping stones to review my processes and improve the service.

    Listen especially to customers who appear to be fussy/high maintenance because they will catapult you to giving 1st class service if you take their advice.

    I also ask for feedback because it has helped me add certain products which proved to be successes with those who hadn’t even requested it.

    I recently received this review from a customer “The product I received was great, with fantastic customer service and care, will use this service again”. As you can see the product was ‘great’ but customer service was ‘fantastic’ and I have several competitors.

    People will always return if they’re treated with respect not because your product is the best. If they find better care with the same product they’ll be gone.

    Providing good customer care is always in the supplier’s favour but only very few can see it.

  4. I think you are absolutely right Helen and it’s amazing really how much effort can sometimes go into marketing for new clients whereas retention of existing customers, repeat business via referral is sometimes more important (although often neglected).

    Thanks for sharing this 🙂

  5. Helen, you not naming and shaming speaks volumes about you and it is appreciated. However I will ‘out myself’.

    Whilst I won’t go into the details of the complaint it is clear that I personally handled this situation badly and for that I apologise. In 5 years of running this was the first formal complaint we have received and therefore didn’t even have a process by which to deal with it. If this whole situation has taught me anything it is acknowledgement is important. This is where I failed, no excuses!

    I thought by responding to you via twitter (Seemed to be your communication method of choice – my assumption and clearly wrong!) it would be more personal. I also over refunded you to ensure you didn’t incur charges and whilst it was slightly delayed, my failure to communicate effectively was my fault. Sorry!

    We are now taking steps to ensure this doesn’t happen again and for the lesson I am grateful.

    To prove I am taking more interest in customer services, I even blogged about a related topic here

  6. Helen

    Warren, thank you for your post, and I appreciate your comments. I also enjoyed your blog post. (I too think taking the manager to one side would have been a better option). I think it is great that in five years you haven’t received complaints and am sorry to have been the first, I thought long and hard about whether to complain or not, but in the end decided that it was better you knew about it, than I sat and let it stew. I am also aware that it may have seemed a trivial complaint, but it had spoiled the evening for me.

    I tried very hard when writing this blog to ensure that it didn’t point to anyone, that wasn’t the intention at all, but I did feel asking companies to consider their complaints process was a good topic.

    There have been some interesting comments on Twitter over recent weeks regarding customer service and complaint handling, particularly in connection with review sites, and this was also something that prompted me to blog on this subject.

    I think sometimes the acknowledgement is more important to the customer than the refund, the complaint in this instance wasn’t about money, but about respect. I do however appreciate that in offering the refund you took into consideration the fees that would have been attracted and over compensated. What means a lot more to me than the refund is that this has caused you to consider the way you handle complaints and look at a process.

    Thank you for taking the time to respond.

  7. Great blog Helen.

    It seems it is “February: Complaints Bonanza”. It’s always a really interesting area, especially as social media develops and social shopping also develops. The customer does have a right to complain. I agree with you 100%…

    I recently noted that Warren Cass was covering this too. I’ve posted a blogs on the subject:

    I’ve also posted a comment on Warrens blog about a complaint I received today… feel free to go and read it:

    So, Helen. Do you have a complaints process?


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