How to use a complaint as an opportunity

Think of the worst complaint you had to handle.

Think of your worst customer that raises the hairs on the back of your neck when you think of them. 


But first, let’s define a complaint. What is a complaint?

A complaint is a person’s justified expression of a negative experience or feeling during any part of the sales process. (We need to be careful not to mistake it with the (negative) negotiation technique disguised as a complaint.)


How do we usually react to a complaint?

What is our natural reaction to a burst of rage in front of us?

In most cases, shock, next is defensiveness and then trying to avoid blame. As a seller or a service provider (especially a service provider), we have to rise above this if we want to be in business in the long run. Because complaints are going to happen all the time if we are human.

Everybody has the right to be angry if they have a feeling of wrongdoing. We, as a customer, are suffering because of an injustice that happened to us (or a sense of injustice).

Then we want the seller to pay for our suffering. In this phase, it is not important whether our feelings have rational grounds or not. As a seller, all we can do is to be patient and wait for the balloon to deflate.


We visited a restaurant with friends. The food was amazing for most of us. One risotto served to a friend was tasteless. So a friend of mine called a waiter and told him about it. The restaurant manager noticed that something wasn’t ok and approached us. Asked what was wrong, took a fork and a bite from the friend’s plate, agreed that it was awful, immediately took it away and made an order for something else.

We thought that this was the end of it. But no. My friend received the best scampi pasta within 5 minutes, the entire table of 8 received a free dessert and a brandy. The manager came around for the second time to check if we were satisfied.

He had the best vision in his mind:

»I will make them my best customers! «


There is one more example:

A friend of mine is sewing unique accessories like purses, make-up bags and wallets, and selling them over the internet. When a customer complained that after putting the purse in the washing machine, the colours wore off, she immediately offered to make her a new one (at no additional cost of course!). She now has a loyal customer, buying her products regularly.

In her own words:

“I stand by my products, and I guarantee the quality.”


What did they do right? What can we learn from this?

We need to show that we care.

We need to show that we care about our customers and about what they think about us. 9 out of 10 dissatisfied customers that do not share their dissatisfaction directly with us will find a way to spread the bad word about us somewhere else. A bad reputation isn’t something upon which we can build our long-term success.

We must stand proudly as the face of our company/product/service.

We care about our company, our products, our services, right? Even in the face of our mistakes, issues or just a difficult customer, we shouldn’t try to avoid the responsibility but rather focus on the solution.

Go the extra mile.

Let’s surprise our customers. Let’s increase their perception of the value they received. Serve them the unexpected dessert. The other option does not make a happy customer.

Complaints are the fastest route to our best active recommendations.

In today’s world of transparency, we cannot hide our complaints book anymore. Thoughts and opinions are shared – fast. We can either make the worst out of it. Or know how to take a deep breath and realise the opportunity in front of us.


And I can recommend the best scampi pasta in Croatian Istria. 🙂

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