If you run a business, you’re going to get complaints. That’s an unfortunate fact of life. It doesn’t matter how good you are at what you do, or how blameless you feel you, your employees or your business methods are in a certain situation – you’ll eventually come across an unhappy customer, and that customer is going to put in a complaint.

When they do, you have a problem to deal with, and it might be a bigger problem than you realize depending on where they’ve put it. If any aspect of the complaint ends up online, it might go viral, and you could find yourself on one of the internet’s many lists of PR disasters.

Sometimes – perhaps more often than not – a complaint will seem to be baseless and unfair to you. That doesn’t matter. Handling complaints is similar to playing online slots in reverse. When you’re chasing a win on an online slots website, you do the same thing multiple times without gaining any reward, and then you win something out of the blue.

In online slots UK, they call that a jackpot. In business, you can do the same thing multiple times and get your rewards, and then from nowhere, you’ll get a complaint even though you did everything the same way you usually do. Regardless of how frustrating that is, it still needs addressing as quickly as possible before the situation escalates.

If you have a complaint on your desk and you’re not sure how to approach it, follow these golden rules and get the situation back under control before you lose the chance to do so.

Always Apologize

Apologizing sometimes feels like the wrong thing to do when you believe that a complaint isn’t your fault, but you still need to do it. Even if you don’t support your customer’s complaint and your investigations have revealed no wrongdoing on your behalf, the customer still had a bad experience and felt the need to complain.

Even if you apologize for nothing else, you can apologize for that. Tell them you’re sorry for how they feel, and you’re also sorry that they’ve felt the need to make a complaint. People appreciate apologies.

Take care not to make your apology conditional. There are good ways and bad ways to apologize. Bad apologies start with ‘sorry, but.’ There should never be a but. Open with the apology – and make it sincere – and if there is a ‘but,’ it should be a separate point. It shouldn’t be conflated or contained within the apology. Once you’ve apologized, you can move on to addressing the issue at hand.

Ensure The Customer Is Speaking To The Right Person

There’s nothing more frustrating to a customer than explaining a problem to one person, being passed on to somebody else, and then having to explain the situation a second time. By the end of their second explanation, they’ll be more exasperated than they were the first time around. You’ll almost certainly have experienced this yourself, and you know how annoying it is.

As soon as it’s apparent that a customer wants to make a complaint – whether in person or in writing – make sure that communication happens between the customer and the person most suited to resolving the complaint. Don’t use gatekeepers if the gatekeeper doesn’t have the authority or the capability to resolve the complaint.

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Prioritize Complaints

Some companies have a standard fourteen-day turnaround for handling complaints, and there’s no justification for it. If there’s an issue with something that a customer has paid you for, it needs handling as quickly as possible. In so far as is possible, ‘as quickly as possible’ should mean the same day.

Long turnaround times just give companies more time to sit on the complaint, do nothing, and further anger the customer. You may as well tell the customer that their complaint doesn’t matter to you.

If you can fix the problem there and then, do so. If a complaint arrives in writing, contact the customer immediately. This is more important than basic administrative tasks, and it’s a better use of your time than trying to fight fire online if the customer gets bored of waiting and starts tagging you in Tweets. Make the time to deal with the situation.

Acknowledge, Don’t Dismiss

If your customer’s complaint is reasonable, then you should acknowledge your error immediately, accept wrongdoing, and then move on to attempting to resolve it. If it isn’t reasonable, it’s still important that you acknowledge it.

Too many companies individuals try to drown complaints in a shower of ‘buts’ – conversations or communications which go along the lines of “in your complaint, you said this, but what actually happened is this.” It’s a defensive stance, and it can also be patronizing.

Acknowledging a complaint doesn’t mean that you’re accepting responsibility for it – it just means that you’ve listened, and you’ve taken the time to understand why your customer is upset with you. Let them get the entire complaint off their chest, and when they’ve finished explaining, clarify with them that you have a full record of their complaint before you attempt to address it.

Ask For Another Chance

No business likes to lose customers. With some complaints, it will be impossible to win that customer back or to solicit further business from them in the future, but that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t try.

As part of your apology and redress, there’s nothing to lose by asking the customer if they’re willing to give you another chance and try to set the matter to rest that way. That might involve giving them a free trial, a free product, a discount, or another incentive to stay with you and use your services again.

You’d be surprised how much difference this makes to ‘word of mouth’ about your company. Customers do tell their friends (and, these days, tell the internet) when they’ve had a bad experience with a company, but they’ll also tell their friends when you’ve done something to make it up to them. That’s because it’s rarer than it ought to be, and people are so impressed when it happens that they rush to tell the world about it.

Everybody makes mistakes. Everybody gets complaints. Trying to avoid complaints don’t do anything to enhance the standing of your business, but trying to handle them correctly will. Make sure you do.