8 Effective Ways to Handle Customer Complaints (And Use Them to Improve Your Business)


Did you hear the one about the business owner who got into a Facebook flame war with an online reviewer? What about this restaurant owner who overreacted to a review, and then wound up firing his entire staff because, according to him, his “account had been hacked.”

While you’re probably not about to launch an all-out verbal assault on your customers, a negative review is enough to put any business owner on edge. A comment in public venues, such as on your website or social media channels can land a real blow to your ego.

However, dealing with customer complaints is about more than damage control. Owners who are able to set their feelings aside and handle issues in a cool and collected manner can earn themselves a customer for life—at least if it’s done right. Here are eight foolproof tips for diffusing the situation and turning a complaint into a compliment!

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Avoid Complaints from the Get-go

Many complaints in the home building business stem from poor communication. Clients have limited knowledge about the construction process to start with, so they often don’t know which questions to ask. Your projects go a lot smoother if you accept this reality instead of viewing it as a continual nuisance. Embrace your role as an educator and expect to lead clients through every step of the process. Help them by asking the right questions—before they become an issue.

Keep Your Cool

However, if you do wind up with an unhappy customer on your hands, your best bet is to keep calm. An angry reaction usually only exacerbates the situation—and makes you look bad in the process. And since so much customer service occurs over social media, you could really damage your reputation if a clumsy response goes viral. (You don’t want to end up as the next entry on a list like this.). When you receive negative feedback, your first response is to do nothing at all, at least not right away. Instead, step back, take a few deep breaths and give yourself a few minutes to process.

Listen and Ask Questions

Even the most bizarre complaints may have a kernel of truth buried in them somewhere. Before responding, it’s important that you know the facts. Ask the customer to clarify or reveal important details that they may have left out of the narrative. For instance, if you have a large stable of subcontractors working for you, figure out who they were working with. Tease out exactly what made the customer angry—unrealistic expectations? Poor communication? Bad workmanship?

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Put Yourself in Their Place

To appease a customer, you have to think like a customer. In the residential contracting business, customers can have some truly epic reactions. But there’s a reason for the emotionality:

  • Clients are on edge the from the word go. Customers go into a renovation expecting a negative experience. Unfortunately, contractors don’t have the best reputation (according to one survey, over 74% of homeowners have had a bad experience with a contractor). With that kind of baggage to deal with, you’ll have to take extra care to re-establish trust with new clients.
  • Customers frequently have a limited understanding about the building process. Homeowners hire contractors for their expertise. That means they either take what you say as gospel, or feel vaguely suspicious throughout the entire process. Give your homeowners some peace of mind by providing professional estimates and showing up to appointments on time.
  • Homes are important. Homeowners have a lot of invested in their homes—both literally and figuratively. Beyond the financial element, homes provide safety and a place to retreat from the outside world. So that gets threatened, the response can be a little on the extreme side.

The more you learn to identify with the homeowner mindset, the better equipped you’ll be to address customer complaints.

Don’t Challenge a Customer’s Complaint

It’s usually not a good idea to dispute a customer complaint, even if you know it’s wrong. The mantra “the customer is always right” extends to complaints aired over social media and other public forums as well. And few and far between are the instances when the court of public opinion has sided with the business owner in an online dispute. So don’t argue or make excuses. You’ll only be hurting yourself.

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Offer a Genuine Apology

Apologies are like a release valve: they take the air out of a high-pressure situation. Apologize freely, but stick to authentic, sympathetic amends. Internet users can sniff out a non-apology faster than you can say “viral,” so avoid phrases like “I’m sorry you felt [blank]” that divert blame from yourself and your business.

Make It Right

Obviously, running a construction business isn’t like managing a restaurant or a retail store. You can’t just offer the customer a gift card or a new product and be done with it. Your approach is going to vary, depending on the issue at hand. Maybe you offer to return to the site and fix the problem to the customer’s satisfaction. Maybe you refund a percentage of the final bill, such as your labor costs, or even give them one on the house. In the long run, it’s better to get out with your reputation intact than pocket a few extra dollars.

Remember, Every Complaint Is an Opportunity in Disguise

Business owners almost never get the chance to interact openly and directly with clients. Skillful complaint management isn’t just a chance to smooth things over and soothe a frustrated client, it’s often a way to cement lifetime loyalty. Surveys show that 70% of customers are willing to work with a business again if you solve an issue to their satisfaction. And for every customer who speaks up with a complaint, there are an average of 26 who say nothing. When you listen to complaints with an open mind and a willingness to improve, you just might learn a few things about your business—and the clients you serve!

Ready to grow your business?