I’m afraid that we all get them and with the very best will in the world, mistakes do happen. When it comes to complaints, these mistakes and poor handling of a situation can be costly for business in more ways than you may first realise.


That being said, any feedback, good or bad is an excellent opportunity to improve and develop your business so pounce on these opportunities to make positive steps going forward! I’m going to show you how to make the best of these opportunities and turn unhappy customers into repeat business.

When it comes to managing these complaints appropriately, categorisation is crucial. Organise them by category and then look further into them based on individual needs where appropriate. When I talk about categorising complaints, I don’t mean filing them away and intending to address them later. Complaints should always be answered urgently, immediately if possible, regardless of the category. 

The reason for categorisation is in fact, to give you a starting point of what to respond with, to speed up the process. There’s nothing that inflates an issue quicker than poor response times and unkept promises! Remember that an unhappy customer with time on their hands may lead to a review that could be damaging to your brand’s reputation.

The examples used in the below guide are based on a retail environment.  Consider using a traffic light system to help identify these features at the initial contact:

Green Complaints

  • Slow shipping speed (but item has now arrived), 
  • Customer unhappy with prices,
  • Complaints about a store, website, member of staff, or any part of the transactional process,
  • Complaints about an advertising campaign.

Green complaints are those that might be turned around with a quick phone call or email apology. Don’t say you’re going to look into the issue if you aren’t, it’s very likely that you’ll never find out from the postal service why that particular parcel took an extra day or two to arrive. 

Often, this kind of feedback is invaluable and can identify where a product description needs to be changed, a process has fallen down or even provide clues as to how your products and services are received by their target market, but the issues are likely minor.

I can’t emphasise this enough – make use this feedback!

If an apology (and maybe a quick edit here or there) isn’t enough, consider offering the customer a discount voucher for money off their next shop. Remember that the value of a satisfied, repeat customer is higher than that 10% voucher!

Amber Complaints

  • Items that have arrived damaged, 
  • Poor product quality.

These are the middle ground complaints where you need to be actively following up on each issue in detail. After you’ve got the order details, pictures of any damaged or inferior quality products and gone through troubleshooting to ensure that the product has been used correctly, you should be able to immediately satisfy the customer by offering a replacement or refund if appropriate.


You should also follow up with your supply chain or manufacturer regarding the issue but don’t make the customer wait. You can and should resolve these issues very simply by meeting the customers’ original expectations in a timely manner. 

If the product has been misused, then take some time to evaluate the way your instructions appear, whether they are clear/accurate and make a decision on the outcome from there. If your handling or usage instructions clearly contraindicate the way that the product has been used, then you might consider compromising by sending the customer a refurbished part. This option is entirely at your discretion but anything you can do to exceed expectations is likely to earn you repeat business and a positive outcome.

Red Complaints

  • An order has not arrived, 
  • The customer has been left waiting for a response,
  • An incident has occurred in store.

In these instances, remedy immediately. An immediate solution may be as simple as resending the order. If not immediate then assure the customer that you will call them back with a response and ensure that an update is given by phone, within 24 hours.

Even if you don’t yet have an answer for your customer, it’s crucial that they aren’t left feeling that they’ve been forgotten – so call them anyway and offer an update on the steps you’ve taken so far and when they will next hear from you. Keep your promises. 

In any event, for all complaints, log the details in a spreadsheet so that you can identify any patterns and investigate ongoing or repeat issues thoroughly. 

The Cost of Complaints

Whilst a certain level of loss is to be expected for damaged products, check your manufacturer or supply chain agreement carefully and lodge a claim for any poor-quality products provided to your customers or items damaged and lost during transit. 

If during your investigations it turns out that (for example,) the manufacturer has been providing sub-standard products which have been unknowingly sent out by your business, follow up by contacting any customers affected and if appropriate, offer them a replacement. Keep stringent records and ensure that the manufacturer is kept informed throughout the process.

Be active in how you remedy situations such as these with the customer – not all customers will complain directly, but some may leave negative reviews or poor feedback which may cost you future sales. 

In this sense, you can minimise or even eliminate the costs of many refunds and replacements whilst keeping customer satisfaction high.

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