The Best Way to Respond to Complaints
No one likes to hear complaints. But what if you could find a way to turn a negative experience into a positive one?
Complaints can invoke a range of feelings, from anger and frustration to embarrassment and disappointment. This is completely normal, but when your response reflects those feelings, a bad situation is made even worse.
It’s possible to reap benefits from complaints. If you handle them with politeness, empathy, and a genuine willingness to listen, the “complainer” will feel heard and valued. And complaints are a chance for you to discover ways to improve your organization.
So what should you do when you get a complaint? Try this advice:
- Don’t react in the heat of the moment. If you receive an angry email, don’t respond right away, or your answer might be unnecessarily harsh. Cool off and reflect, then write a response. You might even want to sit on the response overnight, then check it again. If you don’t have the luxury of a cooling-off period, pause, take a deep breath, and try to relax. Then respond with curious words, not caustic ones. Ask questions. Often, complainers want to be helpful but aren’t sure how, and your questions can lead them to a calmer place.
- Assume good intentions. To change your attitude about complainers, keep this in mind: they are engaged. They care about your product or service—if they didn’t care, you wouldn’t hear from them.
- Validate the positive and ignore the negative. Don’t take the complaint personally, and be honest with yourself: does the complainer have a good point or two? Can you separate out the anger and sarcasm to uncover some constructive criticism? Address that, and don’t be tempted to respond with your own complaints about the angry person’s attitude.
- Reward the effort. The complainer took the time to write, call, or show up to make their feelings known, when they could have just walked away. You would have no idea why you just lost a customer. So thank your complainer for taking the time to make their feelings known and giving you a chance to make things better.
The next time you get a complaint, even if it feels unnatural, tell yourself that you are grateful for the opportunity to receive valuable feedback. When you handle complaints in a compassionate and professional manner, you do much to diffuse uncomfortable situations and bad publicity. And you may even turn a critic into a fan.
For more advice, read “Why Complaints Demand a Caring Response.”