Complaints – Average Businesses Ignore Them. Exceptional Businesses Don’t

Steve O'ConnorCustomer Service, Marketing, Women Owned BusinessesLeave a Comment

Customer reviews can make or break a business, especially when shared online on a public forum like Yelp, Tripadvisor , Twitter, or even Facebook. Almost 8 in 10 online Americans between the ages 18 and 64 agree that online reviews influence their purchase decision.  This all sounds exciting until your business gets negative press.

Attention, Attention…someone doesn’t like us.

When you first stumble across a negative review, it’s pretty shocking. It feels as if someone has put up a billboard of negativity that will drive away future customers. The best thing you can do for your business is to hold back on posting an emotional response, and use the same techniques online, that you would use in your place of business when dealing with upset customers. If you don’t have a formal customer complaint process, here are some strategies that work equally well online and face to face, to help ensure that this visit in question isn’t the last.


Hear them out. Don’t get dragged into the emotions of the complaint. Strip the complaint of tone and body language and assess if there truly is a problem – not as seen by you, but as seen by patrons. Let the customer voice their concern, without interruption. If face-to-face, look them in the eye, and provide acknowledgement cues such as nodding your head, or saying ok. Use your own words to repeat the issue back to the customer, to let them know you understand what they are saying.

Take this time to separate out opinion from potential business improvement suggestions. While both need to go through LAST, the solutions are decidedly different.


Let the customer know that you are sorry to hear that they are upset. Apologize for any wrongdoing if the customers were wronged, for example, the food was burnt or a clerk opened the change room doors on them. Sometimes a simple apology can immediately diffuse a tense situation. Do not make the issue about the customer.


Take responsibility and solve the immediate issue – an upset customer, as you may not get able to solve the root problem immediately. If the complaint was online, and you are going to offer the customer some type of compensation, let them know in private and do not post the offer on the public forum wall. If you post publically that you’re giving them their next meal free, or sending them a gift card, you may see more negative online reviews from opportunists looking for the same deal.

Have you heard this complaint before? Even if you haven’t, it may be a warning sign that something new is wrong. In either scenario, you may need to discuss with staff as a team to determine if it’s a common complaint, and brainstorm a solution.  The solution may be long the, requiring time and money, in which case, you should put together a plan to address that bathroom renovation, patio extension, or new uptown location. If your business doesn’t currently have the cash flow to support the solution, remember you have funding options, like a business capital advance to finance the changes.

You will also get complaints for which there is no action item solution. It may simply be a difference of opinion. Online, chose wisely if those comments merit a response, especially if the tone used by the customer is heated or harsh. An online battle over something you’re not going to change may do your business more harm than good.


Thank the customer for their patience, and for bringing the matter to your attention. Also, thank them for their business. If the issue merits follow up, then make sure you communicate timelines and identify point person at your establishment. Don’t forget to follow up after the solution is in place. Go online to the original post, and let the customer (and all other readers) know that the problem is solved, and to stop by and check it out.

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