Shep Hyken\'s Customer Service Blog

Don’t Avoid Customer Complaints. Manage Them.

Don't Avoid Customer ComplaintsComplaint Avoidance

It is typical that most companies want to create a customer service experience that doesn’t give their customers anything to complain about. Well, it’s not a matter of if the customer will ever have a complaint. It’s when the customer will complain.

Furthermore, the concept of complaint avoidance isn’t about trying to be perfect and never having a customer complaint. For the purpose of this lesson, it’s about avoiding reality. In other words, it’s about turning your head from mistakes, problems and complaints – acting as if they aren’t there.

Let’s discuss two types of complaint avoidance.

The first is the potential complaint. This is a complaint that hasn’t yet happened.  It’s there, just waiting to be discovered. You know about it, but choose to look the other way away and, for whatever the reason, you don’t deal with it. It could be due to fear, laziness or apathy. It doesn’t matter what the reason is. Avoiding the problem doesn’t make it go away. Instead, you must seize this as an opportunity to step up and fix the problem before it becomes a complaint. You may have noticed a glitch or problem in your system. It may be an error on a report. It may be that you found out that your customer’s shipment won’t arrive on the date promised. Regardless of whatever the problem may be, rather than avoid it, manage it. Determine the issue, how it happened and what you can do to fix it. Communication becomes important. Be proactive. If there is a customer that needs to be informed, then inform them before they inform you. And by the way, that includes your internal customers as well. They depend on your good work, just as the customer does.

The second is simply avoiding the customer’s complaints. Dodging phone calls or not responding to emails and hoping that the customer will just stop complaining and go away. Not dealing with the complaint may escalate it the situation to become worse than it is. And, in some cases, the customer may actually stop complaining. They may even go away… permanently. I’m not a psychologist, but I believe this is considered passive-aggressive behavior; aggressively deciding to passively avoid the issue.

In either situation, the reality is that there is a problem. It has either the potential to become a complaint or already is a complaint. Either way, it must be dealt with. So, here are three simple thoughts about managing versus avoiding customer complaints:

  1. Be proactive. Deal with a potential problem or complaint as quickly as possible.
  2. It may or may not be your fault. Either way, you must demonstrate an attitude of accountability, so choose to own it.
  3. Don’t just fix the problem. In the process, work to restore confidence. Prove that the customer made the right decision to do business with you.

Shep Hyken is a customer service expert, professional speaker and New York Times bestselling business author. For information contact (314)692-2200 or For information on The Customer Focus™ customer service training programs go to Follow on Twitter: @Hyken

(Copyright ©MMXIV, Shep Hyken)

  1. It was a pleasure chatting today with you on the #CustServ Twitter chat. I brought up my lengthy experience with ATT Wireless. It was lengthy because there were multiple things to deal with.

    At one point, the “live chat” rep wanted me to call another division of their customer service. I said, “wait a minute, you messed this up, not me”. So she cleverly said, ‘no worries, I’ll call them for you’ then ended up connecting me to them but the fact that she stuck with it and stayed on the live chat until I was done turned what was about to be a complaint into a managed customer service experience.

    If she was being restricted by time goals this never could have happened. It is certainly an advantage of “live chat” because reps can multi-task.

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