5 Secrets to Responding to Awful Customer Complaints

Let's set the record straight: THE CUSTOMER IS NOT ALWAYS RIGHT!

You know this and I know this to be true. Heck, we all know the old adage, "The customer is always right" is totally bogus. Why is someone who has no basis to insult me or my business allowed to boldly attack me online in front of thousands of customers and potential clients? It's total BS, so instead of giving in to the customer who happens to be 100% wrong, let's work on crafting the perfect response to save face. Shall we proceed?

Rule #1: Don't Antagonize or Instigate

There is absolutely zero benefit to you to get into an online shouting match. Always take the high road and if you can see far enough ahead & realize there will be no positive outcome, then pump the brakes and take it offline. If you work as a business owner in any industry, you become an excellent judge of character. Is this customer crazy? Are they personally insulting you? Are they cursing in ALL CAPS?! If so, it might just be best to give them enough rope to hang themselves. 9 out 10 times, it's probably easier to just apologize--even though you did nothing wrong--and send them a coupon code to shut them up. But if you are a person of strong principles and cannot let a bad customer get the best of you, then respond, but don't respond angrily. Write 3 drafts and let someone else read it before you post it on social media for the world to see. Otherwise, you could be in for a world of headaches.

Rule #2: Don't Ever Insult the Customer...EVER

Even if they call you the C-word, D-word, P-word, A, B, F, or S-word, don't insult them personally. You'll look equally as bad and whatever argument you had will be lost within your personal attacks. Stick to the facts and don't let the customer bring you down to their level. Remember, you are also representing your business and these comment threads and email chains are archived on a server FOREVER. Don't ruin the future of your company by calling someone an "a$$hole." Customers hold you to a higher standard because you are a business, so don't let them see you drop below their expectations.

  There's only one lovable bully and that's Nelson Muntz. Don't be a bully! (Image: The Simpsons)

There's only one lovable bully and that's Nelson Muntz. Don't be a bully! (Image: The Simpsons)

Rule #3: Protect Your Employees

They need to trust you and know that you have their backs when the going gets tough, which includes fielding harsh criticism from customers. Reinforce with your employees that they are in the right and you will deal with the matter personally. Take the weight off of their shoulders and take responsibility for what is yours. Like I mentioned before, give the upset customer enough rope to hang themselves, but feel free to reiterate that such harsh words will not be tolerated against members of your staff. First, this shows your employees that you care enough about their well being. Second, it proves to the world that you are more than a faceless company. It proves that you have a heart and that you care about your staff. A simple, "Our company does not--and will not--tolerate any customers verbally abusing our staff" will go a long way. You appear stern, yet civil and the customer looks like a total bully.

Rule #4: Explain that you are only human

  Don't let the haters get the best of you! Thank you Mean Girls for the important life lesson .  (Image: Paramount Pictures)

Don't let the haters get the best of you! Thank you Mean Girls for the important life lesson. (Image: Paramount Pictures)

Ah yes, the human factor! Customers tend to forget--or could care less--that they are dealing with other human with feelings and emotions. In your response, explain to them that you understand their position, but also thoroughly express your perspective through a sympathetic lens. Evoke emotion through your response in a manner that your customers will be able to relate to. Yes, this boils down to a matter of picking sides so if you want your customers on your team, become that sympathetic character that they want you to be.

Rule #5: Get in and get out

For this blog post, I used an article by The Tribunist as a guide. Entitled "This Company’s Epic Response to a Pissed Off Client is as American as it Gets" follows a brief correspondence between an angry customer that posted a terrible review and the Liberty Bottleworks owner, Ryan Clark. Basically, this customer was upset over poor communication in regards to a payment issue during Thanksgiving holiday. Most of us understand that businesses are often difficult to reach during any holiday, but especially Thanksgiving. Owner Ryan Clark proceeded to explain, "...my employees were home with their families doing their cards, baking cookies, etc. Family first, product second. If you want immediate service on a Saturday, try supporting your local retail establishment, such as Bill and Paul’s Sporthaus, People’s Food Co-Op, or Barnes Ace Hardware." I mean, what possible comeback could you have for that, right!

But it gets better. He continues on by saying, "I am sorry you are upset and I will gladly give you your money back, but I am not sorry our employees were enjoying the holidays. That right is not exclusive to you." BOOM GOES THE DYNAMITE!!! Ryan Clark has single-handedly figured out the perfect response to bad customer reviews. He never insulted or criticized the customer, he didn't instigate any further confrontation, he protected his employees, and became a sympathetic character. 

Make your point, make it short and sweet, and get out. Make sure that it's good enough that you have no need for another comeback. Be confident that your response will stop this conversation in its tracks. 

If done correctly, not only will you feel vindicated, but you might just become an online hero to many--and gain a few new followers too!

-Chris Parks