How to deal with complaints and negative reviews

Every business owner needs to know how to deal with complaints and negative reviews.

business-idea.jpg.jpgAt the end of the day we can’t please everyone.

What’s important is to know how to deal with the situation when it arises and not take it to heart.

Very often, if you are a solopreneur or offer a highly personal service, negative reviews or a complaint can fire up the strongest of emotions.

You may want to scream and break things or you might want to curl up in the foetal position on the floor and rock gently to 80s love ballads in the dark.

It can feel like a person attack, a slap in the face after all the effort you’ve put in to have someone come back and say something negative about your obvious fabulousness.

After all, we’re perfect right (*insert sarcasm and a reality check*)?

Before I dive into how to deal with complaints and negative reviews I want to give some basic, yet very important, consumer behaviour theory.

Consumers are twice as likely to express their dissatisfaction with a product or service than if they are satisfied. (Nice eh?)

Think about how often you’ll complain to a friend, or online, if you get a crappy deal? Rave reviews are a lot harder to come by especially if you have delivered on expectation – why? Because the customer got what they wanted – transaction over.

The challenge is how turn a complaint around before it hurts your business and your pride.

1. How to deal with complaints

So, you receive a complaint and someone is unhappy, maybe something didn’t work, or broke the first day, or it shrunk in the wash.

Whatever the complaint is you need to address it immediately. Allowing a dissatisfied customer to sit and stew in the dark is dangerous territory which can lead to a much larger problem.

Quite often you can look at a complaint as a gift – it’s someone taking the time to tell you what is (possibly) wrong with your product or service. Usually it’s not the personal attack on your being that you may initially feel it is.

  1. First off, make sure you have a clear complaints policy including refunds and exchanges.
  2. Do include a time frame for complaints – complaining 3 months later is a bit too late!
  3. Stating “no refunds” is completely well within your rights.
  4. Take each complaint case by case.

Here are 2 examples of different ways to deal with complaints:

The customer who didn’t follow instructions

I recently had a client really upset that a customer had complained that a product had shrunk, and the dye had run in the wash. The customer insisted she had followed the washing instructions on the product (she clearly had not) – the dilemma was that this customer was a prominent figure in the target market of my client and upsetting her could cost this new business its reputation. Pointing out that the customer had not followed the washing instructions and refusing an exchange was too high a price to pay for this business. An exchange was given which ensured that this small business owner saved her reputation (even though she wasn’t in the wrong).

The client who’s baggage was more than just holiday clothes

A few years ago I had a family come to Provence to rent a holiday apartment in August. From the minute they arrived I knew it was going to be an interesting week. The complaints started almost immediately:

(Here are some highlights of the 17 phone calls on the first day)

Client: “Oh it’s too hot outside”  
Me: “Yes, it’s the South of France in August”
Client: “What’s that noise? Can you turn it off?”  
Me: “That “noise” is the cicadas – they’re an emblem of Provence in the summer. And no, I can’t turn them off.”
Client: “This kitchen is so ill equipped, there isn’t a marble slab to make pastry” 
Me: “A marble slab? For pastry? You are in FRANCE on HOLIDAY, why not go to one of the 4 bakeries in the village and buy some pastries?”

The next day I saw the client’s husband – he was sweet and apogetic about his wife’s behaviour. He went on to tell me that this was a “reconciliation” holiday and he’d already contacted his lawyer in the UK to file for divorce upon their return. OUCH.

So, what can you learn from this story?

Sometimes people are just miserable gits, with epic sh*t going on in their lives, and you are the chosen one to share in the icky-poo stuff that’s going on with them.

2. How to deal with negative reviews

You’re rocking and rolling until one day you get an alert that someone has left you a review online.

Excitedly you go check it out.

It’s bad, really bad.

You yell and scream, it’s online, the world will see it, you can’t remove it, you feel attacked.

Someone actually took the time to type out these nasty things and put them online knowing full well that you can’t do anything about it.

Now, before you run off to make a voodoo doll of this person listen up.

Have a really honest conversation with yourself – is there any truth in this negative review? Maybe? Even just a teeny bit? Tell your pride and ego to take a backseat on this convo darling! Take a deep breath, yes you are a fabulous person and this review doesn’t change who you are.

A negative review amongst a sea of glowing testimonials makes you look HUMAN. It’s normal.

You can’t please everyone – even the most divine beings are disliked by many.

It’s not time to shut down your business, sell all your wordly possessions, and retreat to a cave (even if you want to – this, too, shall pass darling!)

It’s time to put things into perspective; why are you focusing so much on this one negative review?

Sometimes you will have the opportunity to respond to a negative review – if this is the case DO NOT reply immediately. Re-read the lines above and take some time to draft your response.

This is often a usually a good time to refer to your terms and conditions.

And sometimes it’s just best to let it be.

Most negative reviews I see online usually make me question what was going on behind the scenes?

  • That crappy restaurant review that had nothing to do with the food or service – did he get dumped?
  • That terrible hotel stay that mentioned the weather and other guests – did she just find out she lost her job?
  • That terrible product review which exceeded the products capabilities– did it come at a time when huge bills flooded in and they knew they couldn’t afford it?

And then you just have plain old crazy, people who complain as a sport – and yes, the vast majority of your future customers are aware enough to spot the crazies out there.

Basically, the customer is sometimes right. Sometimes.

But it’s important to not let complaints, and negative reviews, dent your confidence and fabulousness. Sometimes it is about you, but usually it’s about them.

All too often we focus on the negative, and we allow that one bad review to taint the rest of the amazing ones.

Yeah, we’re all weird like that.

Go read your amazing reviews, those emails filled with love and appreciation and use those as a guide.

Hopefully this post helps you put things into perspective and if you need to make some changes based on the “bad” feedback treat them as a gift.

How else would you know what you need to work on?

Now, I want you to tell me how do you deal with complaints and negative reviews?


Originally posted 14/02/2013 - Post edited 17/11/2017

11 Responses to How to deal with complaints and negative reviews

  1. Great article Ameena! Any business relies on clients whether it’s B2B or B2C. Realistically, you need to go beyond happiness and delight them. That’s not always easy to do and in some cases is impossible. The hard reality is that some people will never be 100% happy with your level of service, and although this might be distressing you need to deal with it. Many moons ago, when I worked in New York , I was head of the Client Services department before going on to owning my own travel management company. I had been faced with this problem from time to time. It’s the nature of the beast; you can’t please everybody all time. So when I would be faced with negative feedback or a complaint, the first thing I would do thank them for taking the time to give feedback, because that is the only way we can know strive for quality. It was amazing within a few seconds after you say that, they calm down. Kind of “feel their pain”. Secondly, I would apologize for their negative experience and then I would let them know I would do something to fix the problem. And make it right. I found that this puts the confidence level high for the business and they feel they are being heard and want to work with you again. Sometimes, the error was in the fault with a third party, but they did business with you, so you get the “distress call”. I made sure something was done for compensation. There are times when a customer is just a molly moaner, but even that was handled with a level of grace. Because truth of the matter, word of mouth is your advertisement, let’s face it, a molly moaner can do a lot of damage. It’s strange because over the years, there have been some oddities that came in the form of feedback, and they went on to be my best customer. Truth of the matter, how we handle customer service can determine whether a potentially destructive situation can be turned into a positive experience.

  2. Hi Ameena,
    I try to use a complaint/problem as an opportunity to build a stronger relationship with a customer but some people are very difficult to deal with and this is because you just KNOW that the problem this person is having with YOU is a problem they manifest with WHOMEVER they deal! (Do you know what I mean?) Yep – you just stepped into a trap, or an abyss and there is nothing to do but see it through until the end, even if you lose money.

    I can feel it when this is happening – you know, the customer whose package it taking too long but who waited too long to place the order and doesn’t want to pay extra for express shipping. Or the one whose order always has a mistake in it, no matter how hard you try to get it right!!! I just accept, deal with it and move on – away from it – as fast as I can reminding myself that my best isn’t going to be good enough for everyone in all cases.

    • Hi Lori,

      It’s so true that you just know when something is going to go wrong! You are so right that, quite often, a complaint can actually give you the opportunity to get that client back and turn them into raving fans!

      Thanks for sharing you experience!

  3. Hi Ameena,

    That’s great advice. I haven’t had any bad reviews or complaints yet when it comes to my business, but what I probably will do is to give a refund or do whatever the customer want. I know that it might not always be the right thing to do, because like you said, the customer isn’t always right. But, so far, I just want everyone to be happy, and that’s what I keep doing, even though it means losing a lot of money 🙂

    On the other hand, I haven’t thought about this at all. Now that you put it on my mind, I probably should prepare myself for situations like the ones you described. If I just followed my heart, I would probably go bankrupt soon 🙂

    • Hey Jens, How is it going? It’s great to not have any negative reviews or complaints – you are doing great! 🙂

      It is really useful to have terms and conditions mapped out, if for no other reason than to know where you draw the line.

  4. I use to be quick to react back in the day, that you thought I wanted to jump through the phone too kick some a–. Then a friend told me that some people are just miserable and if you hit them at the wrong time, everything going on in their life will come out. There was a customer that complained about a service my old job provided and went on a tangent about everything as a whole. She knew someone was listening and assumed we wouldn’t address the problem, so she threatened the company with a lawsuit and everything. Of course poor me was on the receiving end and I had to listen to this nit-wit.

    Once I got the facts instead her “whinning”, I realized that she misunderstood something and it cleared up the problem in 5 minutes. Trust me, I wanted to slap the piss out of her, but she was in the wrong and her “tone” quickly changed back to “playing nice”. After that she gave us “rave reviews” (yeah right) and we never heard from her again.

    On a personal level, I have gotten much better at how and when I respond to anything negative. My first initial reaction is to want a “face to face” interaction, but that wouldn’t do me any good, so I wait a day to cool off and see the real root of the problem and find out WHY they felt that way. Then my response is more about solving the problem instead of ‘pointing” fingers.

    I recently had a complaint with a Freight Shipper for a trade show and my email was warranted and lengthy. I expressed my dissatisfaction and explained the problem from every angle. And when I didn’t get a response, I left them a short message on Twitter. They responded pretty fast and we have been “buddies” ever since.

    Great post girl…You had me cracking up because I saw myself in allot of this post.

    • Yay! So glad this resonated and thanks for sharing your experiences! It’s so true that you can turn a dissatisfied customer into a huge fan – it all comes down to how you deal with it! Keep rocking!

  5. Hey Ameena,

    Great subject. Last year I experienced the most perfect ‘complaint, negative review, and promotional solution’.

    A woman in her late thirties, parked her car across the street from my business and sent two young teenage girls over to but my produce. When the girls returned to the car, the woman thought I had taken advantage of their inexperience. She started shouting at me from across the street, saying that I had ripped-off the girls. I shouted back that I would return her money, if she wanted. As she made her way across the street and through the gate, I knew exactly how I was going to handle the situation, and so without interruption, I allowed her to thoroughly vent, at the top of her voice.

    She came to an abrupt halt when I pushed the refund cash into her hand, and told her to get off my property taking the money AND the produce with her.

    As she left she was very apologetic, but it was all too late, she had made a complete fool of herself. The teenage girls couldn’t have been more embarrassed. The onlookers were absolutely gobsmacked at the spectacle she created, over a $5 purchase, of first grade cherries.

    It really makes me wonder about the extremities, some people will go to, when they’re having a bad day.

  6. Hi I have been reading and I getting more educated, its an eye opener. I have a question if you can help. I have worked with this guy for 2 years I was his go to person. And I left because he stole money from me. Now I started my own business a year ago and it’s not picking up. I can post on forums because he will know who I am and start posting nasty reviews and posing as a client. He did it before. Right now he is email me constantly and phoning me trying to reach me but I have an assistant. What should I do because I really want to go into forums review boards and talk communicating wit client but I can not do that because of the guy. Help what should I do?

  7. Sorry I can not post on forums and as long as I’m in the business he will destroy everything that I will create. 6 other has left him because he stole money from them too. I was wondering which it has been bothering me heavily, if I wrote and link my business website on the reviews boards and forums, he will post pretending posing as client writing nasty thing should I respond or leave it alone. He will not stop as long as I am in the business, when you get the chance I am just wondering what should I do? thank Ashleyann.

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