How to deal with an unhappy customer

An unhappy customer for your business doesn’t have to be the end of the world. Use these tips to navigate unhappy customer experiences with ease. Image shows a man shouting into a telephone.

Sometimes, no matter what you do right while you’re running your online business, you will run into trouble with unhappy customers. It could be due to a mistake on your shipper’s part, a defect that the manufacturer overlooked, or maybe even your own fault—but the fact remains that something went wrong somewhere, and now a customer is angry.

Don’t worry, though. Even though the customer may take damaging action, like posting a scathing review on social media or telling their friends about the terrible treatment they believe they received with your business, it’s not the end of the world. Controversies always blow over, and there is always a way to deal with unhappy customers, and with it, a way to save your business’s reputation.

This article will tell you everything you need to know about dealing with unhappy customers properly.

What to do with an unhappy customer

Before anything, you'll need to be aware of how the customer is complaining. It's much easier if the customer is complaining to you in private and considerably more challenging if they post about their experience on social media. Negative publicity of this kind can have a substantial impact: a 2018 survey found that 94% of customers were persuaded to avoid a business because of negative reviews.

How to respond if a customer posts in public

If the customer complains on social media, it's in your best interest to respond publicly, especially if your business is tagged. Acknowledge the mistake out in the open, no matter whose fault it might be, then promise a solution within a reasonable timeframe and promise that it won't happen again. In doing so, you'll show that you're not defensive and above admitting that there is a problem. While it doesn't immediately solve the problem, you'll make the customer feel heard and understood.

Defensive business owners who resort to shaming the customer for their complaint only invite further bad publicity, so you don't want to seem petty or above criticism.

How to respond if a customer complains in private

You can consider yourself luckier if the customer complains to you privately, as the damage to your business's reputation won't be as widespread. The same rules still apply—acknowledge the mistake and promise a solution, as well as a vow that it won’t happen again.

Templates for acknowledging a mistake

Here are some suggested templates for your messages to unhappy customers. Feel free to mix and match the wordings for your use:

  • “Thank you for bringing this to our attention, [NAME]. We’re sorry that this happened to you. Please send us a [private message on our page/an e-mail at E-MAIL ADDRESS] so we can work out a possible replacement for your product.”
  • “We are really sorry that your purchase did not arrive as intended, [NAME]. We’re willing to replace your item as soon as possible.”
  • "We are sorry that your purchase has not arrived yet, [NAME]. We have tracked the shipment's progress, and it's currently listed at [STATUS]. You may also track the shipment's status at this link: [TRACKING LINK]."

What kind of solutions should you promise?

This may be the easiest part of dealing with an unhappy customer, as you are just finding ways to make them happy. The most straightforward solutions include:

  • A refund
  • A replacement
  • A gift certificate or voucher for future purchases

Or, if you'd like, you can also ask the customer what action they would like you to take to satisfy them. Usually, it will be one of the above, but in asking, you show that you're willing to do whatever it takes to please them instead of assuming what they might want (and possibly failing to give them what they're looking for).

When you promise a solution, you should also promise a reasonable timeframe—you should do it as soon as possible, but make sure you suggest a timeline in which you know you can reasonably get it done. Taking too long will upset the customer further, especially if they have an urgent need for your product.

Lastly, when you send the customer something to make up for the mistake, it’s also a good idea to send a personalized note apologizing for it. This way, the customer will feel like their complaint was personally attended to and not just performed and fixed as part of a business routine. It might even fully restore their confidence in you enough to continue supporting your business.

Posting the solution on social media

If the customer complained in public, it's also in your best interest to post on social media showing that you've rectified the error. This demonstrates that you are open to criticism in running your business and that you have the power to fix mistakes that were made. It also allows you to explain that the errors aren't a common occurrence. Doing these things will also boost other customers’ confidence in your business.

Frequently asked questions about dealing with an unhappy customer

The error wasn't my fault at all. Should I still apologize?

Let's say it was your courier service's error or neglect that caused the customer to be unhappy with their product. Even if it isn't directly your fault, you are still the face of the transaction, not your courier service or anyone else. As much as it may negatively impact your reputation, you still should take responsibility for the product or service. Apologizing for the mistake shows that you're willing to listen to your customers and that you are willing to put in the work to make it better.

The customer is making up the error. What should I do?

In cases where you're reasonably sure that there was no error in your delivery or manufacturing and that the customer may be making up the mistake for whatever reason, it's best to simply talk to the customer and ask for what they want. If they refuse to cooperate, sometimes it's best to give the customer a refund and move on. Don't forget: always avoid getting defensive because that will back you into a position where you can end up bringing more negative publicity to yourself and your business.

Should I always be looking out for bad reviews?

You shouldn't just wait for a customer to tag you in a scathing social media post. Always monitor social media for any potential bad reviews so you can respond promptly. This shows that you're always listening and ensuring your customers are constantly satisfied with your product and service. You should also take a proactive approach to encouraging positive reviews, this can help to mitigate the impact of public customer complaints.

Should I have other people handle my business’s social media accounts?

If you know that it’s difficult for you to be gracious when reacting to negative criticism, it may be a good idea to appoint a community manager who posts on social media and handles customer comments. Community management is a necessary part of running any business, and proper management makes a huge difference in how your business performs. Handing the ropes to someone better skilled with engaging with customers—and maybe also marketing your business on social media in the process—may be an essential expense in the long run.

Always be open to criticism

Remember, your business isn’t perfect, which is why it’s best to avoid acting like it is, especially in the wild environment of the internet. Be humble, be open to criticism, be willing to admit to any mistakes, and always be ready to solve a customer's problem. With these tips, if and when you encounter unhappy customers, you won't resort to panicking and getting defensive—stay calm, and you may even convert a complaint into more sales.


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