Customer complaints are never easy for small businesses. Many small businesses are run from a staff of five or less, which means a lot of heart, soul, and pure sweat goes into every order or service. So how can small businesses handle customer complaints without taking them personally?

customer photo

Photo by Didriks

The first step towards dealing with customer complaints is to acknowledge how the complaints make you feel. Once those feelings are acknowledged, it will be easier to look at the customer complaints from an objective standpoint. After all, customer complaints immediately put you, the small business owner, on the defense which makes it difficult to be objective. Customer complaints can also make you feel as though you have failed in some way. And finally, customer complaints can leave you feeling quite frustrated.

Since customer satisfaction is key to building customer loyalty and repeat sales, it’s important for you to make sure your customers not only feel, but believe, that their complaints are being taken seriously. When they feel as though you respect them, regardless of how petty their complaints may or may not be, they’re more apt to return to do business with you again and to praise your company instead of dragging it through the mud.

With that in mind, here are a few tips to help every small business owner handle customer complaints in a productive and non-offending way.

For online businesses:

You’ve just opened your business email and you’re confronted with a customer complaint, how do you handle it?

1. Let the initial shock take place as you read the email.

2. Once you’ve read the email, take a deep breathe and tell yourself, “Okay, there’s a problem here that needs to be addressed, but first I am going to step away from the computer for ten minutes and let the problem sink in. Then I’ll come back and look at it from an objective point of view.”

3. Walk away from the computer for at least ten minutes.

4. Go back to the email and re-read it again. Then ask yourself, “What exactly is the problem? How can it be handled? What would satisfy the customer without hurting my pocket-book or the company’s reputation?”

5. Write your thoughts down in a word document, check for grammar and spelling and then let it sit there for a few minutes while you read and answer a few more emails.

6. After you’ve give your response a cooling off period go back to the email and ask yourself, “How does it sound? Am I short-tempered with my words or was I apologetic? Did I offer a reasonable solution to the problem?” If you’re not sure, ask a business associate or friend to read it over for you.

7. Once you feel the email is ready to be sent, send it out.

8. Give the customer one day or two to read over your email and respond. If your customer has not replied, give him a call. Let your customer know that his (or her) satisfaction is very important to you.

For storefront businesses:

– When a customer comes in with a complaint, always keep eye contact and nod from time to time—as if to say, “I hear you.” It’s important that your customer knows you are actually listening to his concerns.

– Once the customer finishes telling you about his problem, apologize—even if you did nothing wrong. Apologizing for the inconvenience the customer feels lets your customer know you care and want to make him happy.

– Resolve the problem as soon as possible.

  • Can you handle the situation on the spot?
  • Can you offer a refund?
  • Can you offer a replacement item?
  • Can you offer a partial refund (or store credit) if the item cannot be returned?No immediate resolution in sight? Ask for the customer’s home and work phone number, first and last name, and best time to contact him. Let the customer know you will investigate the problem and get back to him within 24 hours. If you need more time, call the customer within that first 24 hours to let him know what you’re doing to resolve the situation.

    Finally, notice patterns in customer complaints. If you constantly receive the same complaint from several of your customers, it’s time to re-evaluate the way you do things. By listening to repeat customer complaints, you can solve a problem that is ultimately costing you hundreds of dollars in sales thus increasing your business profits and ending repeat complaints for the same problem!

    In the end it’s your customers who can make or break your business so treat them well. And remember, the time, effort, and cost put into serving repeat customers is minimal in comparison to the cost of finding new customers so take the time to listen to their complaints and then offer reasonable solutions for both parties.


    Alyice Edrich is an affordable freelance writer specializing in how-to articles and Q&A interviews for the web. To view her freelance writing rates, or to hire her for your next writing project, visit