How to Use Customer Complaints to Improve Your Business

There is one person who can make or break your business: Your Customer. In a world where word of mouth advertising isn’t limited to your close friends and family, monitoring and responding to reviews could seriously help or hinder your business.

The digital world forever modified the way customer complaints affect small businesses. How often have you seen a customer complaint go viral? Any potential or current customer can see how you respond to complaints and use that to judge whether or not they want to risk doing business with you, especially if you provide a service rather than a returnable good. It’s not only important that you find a resolution for that one customer, but also for the audience of potential customers who can see the interaction take place in the online space.

Instead of seeing these negative comments as a potential threat to your business, see it as a platform to demonstrate your value to all customers and leverage them to improve on your business. Not sure how? Keep reading to find out how to use those customer complaints to improve (and maybe even grow) your small business!

The Nature of Complaints

The first step in understanding how to address a customer complaint is to uncover the true nature of the complaint (and it’s not always as simple as you may think).

For example, a customer may use a popular review site for local businesses and only gives you two stars. While the review he writes blames the product for his dissatisfaction, he keeps circling the review back to his experience with the sales associate who sold it to him. In this scenario, it could be that the product itself was quality, but was not the right one for him. The customer is more upset about being misled than he is about the product.

This situation is not unique. In fact, 67% of customers say that some variety of poor customer service is what encouraged them to complain about their experience, not the product itself.1 Cut through the emotions to uncover what the customer is truly upset about and what their expectations are for resolving the situation. Only when you find the true nature of the customer’s complaint will you be able to address it in a satisfactory way.

Dealing with Customer Complaints in Any Form

  • Control your emotions. As the owner, your small business is like your child. You paired your passion with a plan, and over time it resulted in this business you can call your own. You are very close to your business — it’s not just a job to you, and you take what people say about it personally. When you receive a negative customer review, it can generate strong feelings and it’s crucial that you don’t act on those emotions right away.
  • Don’t stay silent. Allow yourself to cool off, but never stay silent too long. Address the complaints within 24 hours. Any response within that window suggests you care about their overall happiness as a customer.
  • Respond to all comments (compliments and complaints). Customers want to feel appreciated — you are competing against not only other small business owners providing the same good or service, but also against big business franchises and online businesses. A little acknowledgment can go a long way toward personalizing that customer’s experience. It’s important to address the complaints, but don’t forget to show gratitude for positive feedback as well.
  • Put yourself in their shoes. Don’t limit your problem solving resolutions by looking at the cost of the issue from the perspective of bookkeeper of your business — the problem is not just monetary. Think about how the customer feels and empathize with them. If you act like you know more or can’t relate to their issue, the customer may interpret that as you neglecting the issue and not solving it to your fullest capacity. You are in control of the situation, but it’s your job to make the customer feel like you’re in this situation together and want to come to a good solution.

 Using Complaints to Help Your Business

Customers who get their issue resolved tell four to six people about their experience — and that’s just verbally.3 If that person decided to post about that experience on social channels or a review site, the reach can stretch exponentially further. Here are a few ways to use complaints to help your business:

  • Use customers’ experiences for case studies and post them on your site or highlight them in presentations. Don’t think of it as highlighting your failure; think of it as demonstrating how you respond to the issues at hand. In fact, 55% of customers would pay extra to guarantee better service — prospective customers may pay more knowing their purchase is backed by someone who cares.3
  • Explore each complaint as feedback and use it to create proactive solutions to avoid any further issues that might arise from similar circumstances. Think of the complaint as constructive criticism and an inside perspective into the minds of your customers. This helpful insight could help you with product development, return policies, checkout process or even future promotional events. Consider this: For every customer complaint, there are 26 other unhappy customers who have remained silent.3 That means you are only receiving 3.8% of complaints. This is why it is so crucial to address the concerns of complaining clientele — it is highly likely that there are other customers out there with the same train of thought who chose not to return.
  • When appropriate, highlight positive customer service feedback on social channels to demonstrate your credibility and trustworthiness. A good customer service experience is a product guarantee. However, this could backfire if you highlight it too recurrently, as it may seem that you have problems on a frequent basis. It can also seem disingenuous or cheesy like an overconfident infomercial. Use the reviews wisely and they can help.

Everything in your business can be assigned a dollar value. Think the customer service experience is just the cost of a returned product or the value of the employee’s time handling it? Think again. Leveraging these complaints can help generate revenue, save on costs and help your business as a whole.


1Sophy, J. (July 21, 2016). Nearly one fourth of customer complaints aren’t due to bad service but to rudeness. Retrieved September 02, 2016, from

2Fletcher, D. (n.d.). Turning customer complaints into better business. Retrieved September 2, 2016, from

3Shaw, C. (June 10, 2013). 15 statistics that should change the business world. Retrieved September 2, 2016, from