Upset Customers? Here's How to Stop Customer Complaints Before They Happen

Illustration of two people catching customer complaints in a safety net

Customer complaints can be your biggest hurdle or your biggest ally.

Though complaints are frustrating and time consuming to deal with, they provide you with invaluable honest customer feedback. Complaints will show you where you can improve your store and give you the opportunity to leave a lasting positive impression once you solve the problem.

That feedback will also help you solve the root cause of an issue so you can fix it before others have the same experience. So although it’s easy to dread them, complaints are really one of the most valuable feedback loops you have with your customers.

But it’s also important to decrease the amount of complaints you get so you have the time to focus on the bigger ones that will really help you grow. We’ve put together a list of ways you can nip complaints in the bud and ways to handle them when they inevitably come. 

Why addressing customer complaints matters

Customer support isn’t about always being right, it’s about always being willing to make it right. The service recovery paradox indicates this, too: there’s evidence that recovering from a mistake can build more goodwill with customers than what you started with.

Line chart showing the service recovery paradox.

A positive reputation, great reviews, and natural word-of-mouth marketing are all contingent on being able to help upset customers and turn situations around.

The most common customer complaints and how to anticipate them

The causes of customer frustration are relatively universal for online businesses. Shipping and inventory issues, inaccurate product representation, and problems with website usability are often the main culprits. That means we can get ahead of problems in those three categories before they even happen. And, if they do, we’ll arm you with guidance on how to handle customer complaints when they come in.

1. Shipping and fulfillment issues 

“Where’s my stuff?” When customers don’t know where an order is, they can start to get frustrated and concerned, especially around the holidays. Here’s how to keep order status and shipping times transparent.

🔍 How to be proactive

Give customers the option to track their purchase by adding the tracking number when fulfilling an order. Then, when a package ships, the customer will be able to follow its progress. You should also give customers an estimate of how long the shipping option they select will take. Just add the approximate number of days to each shipping option at checkout.

To provide full transparency, you should also add an Order Status page to your store.

Customers will get frustrated if their order isn’t on time. So if you’re experiencing shipping delays, be sure to communicate that clearly on your website, too.

🎯 How to solve 

If a shipment takes longer than usual, or longer than the estimated delivery time, you may start to get questions. Make sure you’re readily available to provide an update, and offer a contingency plan should the order be lost in the mail.

Customer service isn't about always being right, it's about always being willing to make it right.

💬 How to support

Communicate immediately if an item gets lost, and offer a refund or reorder with expedited shipping. In this situation, acknowledging how frustrating the experience is for your customer can go a long way. You should:

  • Validate their concern: “I can see how this would be frustrating. It would really upset me too.” 
  • Sincerely thank them for being a customer: “We really appreciate you as a customer and will do everything we can to make this right.”

2. Inventory problems

You’re browsing online and you come across the perfect holiday gift for your parents. Even better, it’s part of a Black Friday Cyber Monday deal, so it’s super on sale. The only problem is that you didn’t check out fast enough, and by the time you enter your credit card information, the item is gone. Inventory issues can deter shoppers who want to be your customers, simply because you’re out of what they want. Here are a few ways to anticipate lack of inventory and handle it when it happens. 

🔍 How to be proactive

Do you have an effective inventory management system? Inventory management is the process of cataloguing all of your inventory so you know how much of everything you have at any given time. This will help you best understand if you have enough on hand to handle demand.

Once you have your inventory management on point, it’s essential that you track and record the sales peaks you have throughout each year. You can pull that information through Shopify’s sales report.

Take a look back at your sales for the past year, or however long your shop has been open, and examine these questions:

  • What months are historically slow for you? 
  • What months have been busy? 
  • During what months have sales peaked?
  • Was the rush directly connected to a holiday like Black Friday Cyber Monday, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, etc.?
  • Was the rush directly connected to a promotion you ran? 
  • Was the rush tied to a holiday and a seasonal promotion?
  • Were shoppers especially excited about a new product release? 

The answers to these questions should give you a good idea of what times of year your shop gets the most traffic. Those are the times of year when you can expect inventory to sell out the fastest.

Then, look at which products sold out and how quickly, and take note of any bestsellers. That should give you an idea of products to over-index on during your busiest times this year. 

🎯 How to solve 

Overstock customer favorites and your bestsellers so you don’t run out. If you’ve been marketing a new product release that you know customers are excited about, it’s a good idea to stock more of that product than you normally would.

One way to stay proactive about inventory is to send customers a notification when something they like comes back in stock. You can set up an automation via Back in Stock, available on the Shopify App Store. This feels productive to shoppers because they know you’ll follow up when the item they want comes back in.

Product page for Manitobah Mukluks that lets shoppers sign up to be notified when the product is back in stock

Clothing business Manitobah Mukluks offers a “notify when available” box for shoppers to enter their email under sold out merchandise. Customers can also chat with live support should they want to ask any follow-up questions.

Another way to let your shoppers decide how much inventory you need, especially for a highly anticipated product, is to offer a timed release.

San Francisco–based street artist Fnnch sees most of his studio work sell out in under two minutes. So, in order to meet demand for his more affordable line of prints, he makes the edition available for purchase for one hour. Then, he’ll create as many pieces as he received orders for during that time period.

In customer support, more value is created by reducing unpleasant surprises than by delivering delight.

Another way to stay proactive about inventory is to send customers a notification when something they like comes back in stock. You can set up an automation via Back in Stock, available on the Shopify App Store. This feels productive to shoppers because they know you’ll follow up when the item they want comes back in.

Clothing business Manitobah Mukluks offers a “notify when available” box for shoppers to enter their email under sold out merchandise. Customers can also chat with live support should they want to ask any follow-up questions.

💬 How to support

Sometimes inventory issues are unavoidable. To manage customer complaints before they come in, add an FAQ page to your website that details what happens when something you sell goes out of stock. Often customers are most concerned that you’ll never get the item back in!

If you do receive a complaint, do your best to give customers an idea of when (and if) the item will be back in stock. If you know it’ll be a while or that you won’t ever restock the item, offer recommendations of other similar products you think they’ll love.

3. Complaints around inaccurate product photos and descriptions

Have you ever ordered a pair of jeans in the perfect wash, only to open the package and find that the color is just…meh? That’s a shopper’s worst nightmare, especially if they’re ordering a gift that’s time sensitive. Here’s how to get proactive. 

🔍 How to be proactive

Along with crystal-clear photos, shoppers expect clear and accurate product descriptions. So, go through and audit all of yours. Ensure that your product descriptions accurately describe what you’re selling and give a clear idea of what the dimensions are, how much they weighs, what they’re made of, and what they feel like. Then, update the ones you think are subpar or that have confused customers in the past.

You should also invest in high-quality product photography that shows each product in different lighting so shoppers can see an item’s true color.

Allbirds provide a great level of detail for its shoe shoppers. Each style features photos from every angle with different lighting so customers get a true sense of color. Its bestsellers even include a video of a model walking around in the shoes to show shoppers how they look when worn. They also show highlights for each shoe and even give a glimpse of what the inserts look like.

Details shared on the Allbirds product page for their wool runner

At the top of each review section, Allbirds features a sliding scale showing if shoppers felt the shoes run large, small, or are just right.

Positive customer reviews from Allbird's running show

🎯 How to solve 

Writing descriptive and thorough product descriptions will really help you here. You should also provide a measurement section, whether it details how large a couch or throw pillow is or links to a size chart for clothing.

Peace Collective, a Toronto-based apparel company, has product descriptions that are concise enough to be digested at a glance but still feature all of the relevant details. It even includes the model’s measurements as well as a detailed sizing chart.

Sizing details listed on a Toronto-themed bomber jacket sold by Peace Collective

If you have the resources, offer a live chat option so people can ask outstanding questions about size, fit, color, fabric, etc. that may be stopping them from making a purchase.

To go the extra mile, install an Instagram app to let your customers show other customers how they’ve styled your pieces. This is the best way for shoppers to see what something looks like IRL, as it will most likely depict the product in natural light.

Finally, as you look at improving your product descriptions, it never hurts to peruse social media yourself. How do your customers describe your products? What do they love about them? What do they use them for? 

💬 How to support

If a customer complains that a product is different than it appeared online, it’s best to offer a solution as fast as possible. First, reach out to the customer and try to understand what they expected.

Then, offer a hassle-free return or exchange to make it right.

You should also ask the customer for feedback here: how can you make the product photo or description clearer? Not only does this show you truly care, but it gives them the opportunity to share candid feedback that will help others make the right purchase.

4. Problems with website responsiveness and usability

Customers want their online shopping experience to be seamless and easy. Let’s solve those website issues before your customers even have them. 

🔍 How to be proactive

Every part of your website should be clearly labeled. Go through and ask questions like, “Is it easy for non-tech-savvy shoppers to navigate around?” and “Is it easy to see everything?” and “Is the site optimized for accessibility?” There are also several improvements you can make with Shopify tools:

  • Checkout. Increase the effectiveness and efficiency of your checkout flow with Shopify Checkout and Shop Pay. Shop Pay can help you speed up the checkout process (4x, to be exact). We found that more customers completed checkout from stores that use Shop Pay rather than other types of payment processors like Google Pay, AmazonPay, etc.
  • Load times. Make sure your shop is loading lickety-split, especially for customers who have slower internet speeds. You can check in on your shop’s load time with Shopify's Online Store Speed Report.
  • Mobile/responsive design. Every Shopify store theme comes with a mobile-friendly version. Having a mobile-friendly site is essential, as many shoppers use their devices as their primary way to shop online.

Kirrin Finch, an inclusive clothing brand, is a fantastic model. With a clean and no-frills website design, the clothing company already sets shoppers up for success. It also provides a chat option on every page for getting in touch easily. And, to go the extra mile, the shop boasts a comprehensive FAQ section in case shoppers have any questions.

Customer complaints are a source of learning, putting businesses in a position to prevent future problems instead of just reacting to current ones.

🎯 How to solve 

Test, test, then test some more! Ask a few friends or team members to go on your site and give you feedback. Have them click on every link to make sure they go to where they say they will. They can also look for typos and make suggestions for how to make things more clear.

If you’re having trouble with the basic functions of your website or you see error messages when you click on links, you can always contact Shopify customer support for help.

💬 How to support

For immediate issues, make sure you have someone on call to help with any website problems customers experience. The faster you respond, the more likely you are to make the sale.

Long term, feedback here is especially important. Your shoppers use your website every single day, so in a way, they’re constantly testing it for you. When they report that something’s off, you need to act. One person saying something often means that many others have experienced a similar issue.

Feedback is a gift: how to use complaints to improve the experience

While customer complaints are inevitable, they are also an amazing opportunity for you to get constructive ideas and suggestions. Once you and your customer reach a resolution, you should send a follow-up email asking for feedback.

Then, use their comments to improve the quality of both your store and the way you support your shoppers.

You can ask for feedback on their support experience in general, but you should also ask for thoughts on how to improve your store as a whole. For example:

Hey there,

I so appreciate your patience and understanding throughout this entire process. We’re really grateful to have you as a customer, and I’d love to get your thoughts on how we can improve our shop. Do you have any suggestions?

And if you have any thoughts on your customer support experience, I’d love to hear those as well.


Lauren B. 

Customer Service Specialist at Main Street Home

Notice that the email asked for direct feedback and didn’t lead the customer to an impersonal survey. If possible, the email should also come from the same rep the customer worked with.

Once you start collecting customer feedback, notice where you see trends—customer complaints will only help you get better over time!

By using your customer complaints as a feedback loop, you’ll improve your store. And as time goes on, that feedback will become a checklist of proactive measures you’ll take to ensure customers don’t have those experiences again.

Effective, proactive support like this will solve the root cause of issues, which will reduce the number of little complaints you get. By doing that, you’ll not only save yourself time and energy, but you’ll improve the overall shopping experience. And you’ll make more time for one-off issues and create space for more productive support conversations.