5 tips to turn customer complaints into useful insight


As a business, it’s easy to hone in on positive feedback and use this to promote your products or services. But negative feedback should not be overlooked — in fact,  it can often be the most useful feedback of all.

It is important to remember that people don’t like complaining – they do it because you have in some way annoyed or frustrated them. So when a complaint does come in, it’s in your interest to be able to look through the negative comment to the root cause of the issue. By doing this you will find that you are in a much better position to be able to prevent similar issues occurring in future.

Here’s how to turn complaints into something positive, and how to streamline processes, reduce errors, retain more customers and drive continual improvement as you do it:


1. Acknowledge and apologise

In the first instance, take the time to make a genuine and personal apology. This is probably the most simple but effective step that you can take to diffuse the situation which is vital as studies have shown that 13% of unsatisfied customers share their negative experiences with at least 15 other people 1, spreading the effect of a bad experience further.

Make sure to acknowledge the complaint and explain what you will be doing to address it – both at this moment and in future. If there are multiple options for what will happen next, explain these and ask that the customer tell you what they would like you to do.

If it does not come across as defensive, and is relevant to resolving the complaint, explain what went wrong and what should have happened. Honesty builds trust and, if explained carefully, can diffuse any remaining animosity.

Finally, thank them for raising the issue so that you can fix it for future customers.

Throughout, make sure to be courteous, respond promptly and offer constructive solutions – customers are very observant and can spot if staff haven’t had an appropriate level of training (research has shown as many as 84% have noticed holes in training provision 2).


2. Understand the reasons behind a complaint

When you are faced with a complaint, listen to what has happened and determine the cause of the issue. A person saying that they could not complete their booking is a problem, but in order to help solve it – and to prevent it from happening again – you need to know why the booking failed. For example, was there a technical error? Or perhaps your customer journey is not clear and users become stuck halfway through the process.

Asking leading questions both shows that you are making an effort to understand your customer’s frustrations and that you are taking their complaint seriously.

Understanding the root cause of a complaint will also help with analysis (see tip 5 below).


3. Consider a dedicated team to address complaints

To help make sure that complaints are handled confidentially, fairly and promptly, some businesses opt to assign the handling of customer complaints to a dedicated Customer Care team.

In addition to enabling the consistent treatment of any complaints that come in, funnelling complaints through a specific team can also reassure the customer that their issue is being taken seriously – especially if their complaint is handled by one person throughout.

You can add to this by documenting a formal complaints policy.


4. Craft a formal customer complaints policy

A complaints policy will facilitate fairness in how complaints are dealt with, but also offers a more formal path for when a situation has gone beyond initial attempts to provide a solution to the customer.

Formal written complaints need to be recorded, acknowledged within an agreed time period and communicated to the people responsible for managing the business — good team communication is vital if you want to reduce repeat incidents.

Your complaints procedure or policy should be easy to access and understand. Ideally it should be displayed publicly on your website. The easier it is for customers to reach you, the easier it is for you to keep them happy.

Make sure that all employees are fully aware of the complaints procedure and know where to send a customer if they wish to make their complaint a formal one.


5. Analyse your complaints

Feedback should be monitored, evaluated and reviewed regularly. If you do not review and evaluate your feedback, you could be missing opportunities to improve your internal processes and increase the productivity of your business.

It can be helpful to categorise each complaint to aid with evaluation. Categories can be based on what type of error it caused (process, technical, staff conduct, delay, failure etc.) or how severe the effects were.

By analysing complaints you can see patterns and identify wider causes of specific issues rather than the immediate cause of a particular complaint.

You can also use past complaints as training opportunities – they make great examples to test staff on how they would respond to similar situations.

Customer feedback and information gathering is key to promoting quality throughout a business. Because of this, it plays a vital role in the ISO 9001 : 2015 Quality Standard. In fact, customer feedback is part of its requirements, being included in sections:

  • Section 5.1.2 Customer Focus
  • Section 8.7 Control of nonconforming outputs
  • Section 9 Performance evaluation
  • Section 10 Improvement

To find out more about ISO 9001 and what role customer feedback plays in the Standard, contact one of our Certification Development Consultants by emailing [email protected].


1. Research by Esteban Kolsky ↩

2. Research by the Institute of Customer Service

Originally published on Tuesday, August 16th, 2016 by Michelle W.

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About the author

  • Name:

    Michelle-Louise Janion

  • Company:

    Marketing Executive

  • Bio:

    Michelle worked for Citation ISO Certification from 2017 to 2019, producing engaging content around ISO Standards and other compliance related topics.


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