Best Retail Practices: Resolving Customer Complaints

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Retail customer service is not always easy, and many store owners dread encountering dissatisfied or upset customers. However, customer complaints can actually mean something positive for your business. According to research by Esteban Kolsky, 13% of unhappy customers will share their complaint with 15 or more people and only 1 in 25 unhappy customers complain directly to you. The overwhelming majority (91%) of unhappy customers who don’t complain simply leave.

If you are hearing the complaint, this gives you the opportunity to investigate and improve to prevent further complaints in the future. Research finds that customers’ whose complaints are handled quickly can often turn into loyal customers and even brand advocates. A study by Harvard Business Review found that customers who have a complaint handled in less than 5 minutes go on to spend more on future purchases.

Here are four steps to best handle and resolve those customer complaints.

Step 1 – Listen

Customers want to feel heard when they have a complaint. It’s also important for you to understand the situation to better plan on how to best resolve the situation. Research has shown that customers care more about quality than a fast response.

Step 2 – Acknowledge and Apologize

Most unhappy customers simply want to feel that their frustration is understood. Research by The Nottingham School of Economics found that unhappy customers are more willing to forgive a company that offers an apology as opposed to being compensated. Bob Phipps, the Retail Doctor, suggests that the customer will be more receptive to your solution if they have your attention and understanding.

Step 3 – Solve

Staying positive in your solution and focusing on what you CAN do to solve the situation is helpful. Offer the customer real solutions or ask if they have a solution they want. Often the customer requires very little in the form of a solution, such as a refund or exchange.

Step 4 – Follow-up

Thanking your customer goes a long way, and following-up with them after the complaint resolution communicates care. This can be as simple as a follow-up email, survey, or phone call to make sure they are satisfied. Surprisingly, very few companies actually follow-up with customers so you will easily stand to the customer by doing so. You can even go a step further and exceed expectations by sending a hand-written thank you note, giving a discount, or giving early access to a new product.

So, you’ve resolved the complaint, what next?

After a situation is resolved, there are many things you can do to minimize future complaints.


Ask yourself some questions about the situation, such as these recommended by SuperOffice:

  1. Has this happened before?
  2. Have the complaints been recorded?
  3. How often does the same complaint arise?
  4. Is there a pattern to this complaint in how it was received?
  5. Has the same customer reported this previously?

Create a Complaint Policy

(From SuperOffice)

Here are a few best practices when it comes to training your employees and creating guidelines and policies for how you business handles customer complaints:

  1. Any problem must be documented and reported to the appropriate person for resolution;
  2. Establish a ‘complaint owner’ (i.e., someone who is in charge of resolving the complaint);
  3. Deliver a response within a predetermined amount of time; e.g., a complaint is received within 24 hours and a plan to resolve it is established within 72 hours;
  4. Define actions and behaviors your team must follow to deliver a consistent customer resolution experience;
  5. Cases remain open until the root problem is identified and successfully resolved.

Make a Checklist

To make sure you don’t miss any steps, it can be helpful to create a checklist for handling future complaints. Here is an example checklist created by SuperOffice:

  • Acknowledge the complaint
  • Inform the customer that you are taking action
  • Record and categorize the customer complaint
  • Resolve the complaint according to company policy
  • Follow up with the customer to make sure they are satisfied

Encountering customer complaints can be intimidating, but with the right steps in place you can easily approach these situations and create happy and satisfied customers who feel cared for. Complaints are an opportunity for you to show your customers how great your store truly is!

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