Responding to Complaints


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It's possible that in the course of your business dealings, you may (just may) have to deal with a complaint from a customer or client . . . .

There are two ways you can go about this:

1. You can stand up for your rights (and lose the customer and any possible referrals)

2. You can keep your temper and keep your customer


Most businesses these days have (or should have) as their policy that the customer is always right. It's far better business sense to replace a couple of items which don't need replacing, and reap the reward of customer satisfaction and possible referrals, than to insist on your rights and lose unknown numbers of customers and referrals.

So, the aim of your response to an irate customer is to find out what he/she wants and to give it to him/her. Even if the request appears to be entirely unreasonable, what you earn in Brownie Points, often makes up for what you lose in replacing the item (unless of course it's a Maserati or the like!).


1. Express regret, sincerely. Don't say, “We can't understand how this happened, " because this implies that the customer is careless or stupid, since no-one else has had this trouble.

2. Explain how the trouble occurred. Your customer is entitled to know what went wrong (this also reflects well on your business, since it shows that you've taken the complaint seriously enough to investigate it thoroughly, and we all like to be taken seriously).

3. Tell the customer what you are going to do to rectify the situation. The best thing to do is exactly what the customer said he wanted. If this is totally impossible, suggest a viable alternative.

Sometimes the customer will be at fault, by forgetting to include a correct address or leaving out the cheque etc. Again, don't write anything that might make the customer feel silly.

NOT “. . . you failed to enclose your cheque . . . "

BUT “Your goods are packed and ready for despatch. Immediately on receipt of your cheque, which apparently was overlooked in your original letter, we shall send them as requested. "

Sometimes, it's just not possible to give the customer what he wants; and in this case you must exercise extreme tact in the wording of your letter.

The best way of refusing is as follows:

1. Begin with the refusal. I know it's painful, but it's far better to let your customer know how things stand from the very beginning.

2. Explain, in detail, why the request had to be refused. This way, you have the rest of your letter to try to set things right with your customer, and hopefully to end on a positive note (rather than hitting him with the refusal at the end).


  • the expression of regret should sound sincere. “I am sorry. . . " sounds better than the colder, “I regret to inform you “

  • point out all the reasons for refusing the request

  • soften the blow by offering some small consideration. It might be a discount on the next purchase; a voucher for a smaller item (a scarf, tie etc); a complimentary gizmo from another business (with whom you have a reciprocal arrangement); flowers; tickets to a film or whatever.

    Such sweeteners are worth much more than their cost. Instead of a disgruntled customer, blackening your name, you'll have a happy person, willing to tell everyone her story's happy ending. Listeners will see your side and will say things like, " . . . well, they didn't have to do anything really, but wasn't it nice of them?"

    N. B. If the spelling of words like “cheque" in this article worried you, please read this:

    Jennifer Stewart is a professional writer who offers home study courses, copy writing, proof-reading and editing services for businesses and individuals from her site at

    You can subscribe to free Writing Tips to improve your writing: or read numerous articles on how to write well - for profit or pleasure.

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