It’s just a fact of doing business: some day, customers will complain. Even if your service is perfect, even if your products are the highest quality available. Somewhere down the line, there will be a hiccup, a misunderstanding, or disappointment. It happens.
But often, customer complaints are preventable. Allowing customers to communicate with you openly, setting good expectations with customers, and maintaining a high commitment to customer service can help you head off customer issues before they become a problem. Knowing the problem is the first step toward solving (or preventing) it.
And while it’s sometimes uncomfortable or difficult to face customer complaints, it’s important that you do. Research shows that customers who are able to have a complaint resolved in a positive way are very likely to recommend that business to others — and it makes sense that they’ll return as a repeat customer, too.
Read on to learn about the biggest complaints businesses get from customers, plus and what you can do to avoid earning them — and allowing them to become a problem.
Top Customer Complaints #1: A Lack of Information
Before you visit a store, restaurant, hotel, or other business, you may want to know a few details before you arrive. What’s on the menu, where you can park, if they have a shirt in your size, and more. In hospitality, Adi Bittan, founder of OwnerListens, says customers often want to know about baby cribs, gym equipment, or specific reservation questions. Some businesses do a great job of answering these questions, but others don’t — and that’s when it gets frustrating.
How you can avoid this complaint: Customers want information. Give it to them. Whether on your website, Yelp listing, or other information resource for your business, share important details they’d like to know about your business or service which may include:
- Clear, easy to find contact information with options for phone, mail, or email
- Directions with parking details
- Menus or prices
- Service details and amenities available
- Testimonials or reviews
- Options for giving feedback
Top Customer Complaints #2: Poor Service
A bad service experience can have your customer running to your competition in an instant. Bittan reports that customers often complain about speed, rudeness, and knowledge. Customers don’t like to be kept waiting, and they expect every employee to be able to help them with an issue — or direct them to someone who can. But above all, customers want to know that they’ll be treated with courtesy.
How you can avoid this complaint: Breeding a culture of service is important to delivering a great experience for every customer. That means everyone, whether they’re working directly with customers or not, should understand and exemplify one important company value: customer respect. Train and continually remind employees that customer service is one of your company’s most valuable assets, and it’s important to respect, support, and delight every customer they come into contact with.
Top Customer Complaints #3: Negative Atmosphere
Another common complaint Bittan sees? Problems with the physical space. This often means, dirty bathrooms, uncomfortable temperatures, loud music, or uncomfortable seats. Customers may also complain that they can’t find certain items or areas they were looking for. At restaurants, 76% of people complain about dirty utensils or tables, and 73% complain about dirty restrooms.
How you can avoid this complaint: First, be honest with yourself: is your establishment really a friendly place to be? Take a good look at the bathroom and other amenities and consider whether they’re good enough to represent you. But beyond that, it’s essential to open the lines of communication. Let customers tell you, gently, when there’s a problem — and then act on it. Place a sign in the restroom asking customers to tell you if there’s a problem. Pointedly ask customers for their opinion on the music or temperature, and be sure to find out if they’re having any trouble finding something. “These questions are important to catch in real time because they mean a difference between making a sale and the customer giving up and leaving,” says Bittan.
Top Customer Complaints #4: Poor Communication
Occasionally, things go wrong with a customer. You can’t deliver on the service you promised, products are no longer available, or you’ve made a mistake. It happens. These can lead to complaints, but far more often, the problem is that companies aren’t up front about issues. Cheryl Reed, director of external communications with AngiesList.com says that the biggest complaint they hear from their members is that companies don’t call them back — and once work has started, when things go awry on the job and the member needs further communication on a plan to “fix” things.
Other major problems that fall under this issue are difficulty getting in touch and reaching a resolution. Customers hate long hold times, and they do not want to be left waiting to hear back on an issue. A lack of follow up is a problem too, with many customers citing problems with unresolved issues, or calling over and over again for the same problem.
How you can avoid this complaint: Be upfront, clear, and always available. Make prompt communications a priority for your business, and be sure to keep customers in the loop — even when you have to deliver bad news. Make it easy to reach you around the clock, whether that means you offer 24/7 phone service, or simply provide customers with an email or text number they can use to drop a line any time. If you’re a boutique business, make it a point to remember and take notes on customer issues. Larger businesses may need to consider CRM software that allows multiple employees to take notes on issues and needs that are particular to the individual customer.
Top Customer Complaints #5: Product Disappointment
No one wants to buy a product that doesn’t live up to expectations. Bittan says that in the period after customer visits, the most common complaints she sees are about products that are broken, not working, or a result of order errors. In short, customers aren’t getting what they expected, and that’s a problem.
How you can avoid this complaint: There are two important ways to avoid product disappointment: quality control, and customer expectation management. With quality control, it’s on you to make sure that every order is accurate. Products should be in good working order with no missing pieces in the right color, size, or flavor. Customers should receive what they ordered, and your quality control department is the last line of defense against disappointment — even if you as the owner are your own quality control department.
Just as important as quality control is managing customer expectations. If there’s not enough information, customers may assume you’re selling something that you’re not. Don’t tell them that your necklace is gold plated, and they may think it’s solid gold — and be disappointed with you when they find out it’s not. That’s why it’s important to arm your customers with information before the purchase. Share important details of your product or service that they need to know before they make their purchasing decision, offer multiple, clear product photos, and make your policies clear well before customers commit to a purchase.
Top Customer Complaints #6: Service Disappointment
Similar to product disappointment, customers complain when they don’t get the service they think they paid for. It may be that you didn’t do what you promised, or it may be an issue of misunderstanding. Either way, it’s a problem.
How you can avoid this complaint: This is another issue where managing expectations is essential. You should do what you promised — but make sure that it’s clear what you’re promising. Customers should have an accurate timeline, and if you can’t make it, it’s always better to give them a heads up before it becomes a problem. To avoid issues like this in the future, consider under promising and over delivering, as in, telling customers your product will arrive in two weeks, and then delivering it in one. It’s always better to surprise and delight than disappoint and deal with complaints.
Top Customer Complaints #7: Waiting
Waiting is a universal problem that every business deals with. Whether you’re running a restaurant or a consulting business, customers and clients typically want what they want now, and they don’t want to wait for it. The pressure is on to deliver fast, and while you should be on top of time constraints, the fact is that someone always has to wait. (And that’s frustrating.)
How you can avoid this complaint: While no one likes to wait, most customers are reasonable people and understand that often, service and products do not appear instantaneously just because they’d like them to. At some point, someone will have to wait, whether that’s in line, on hold, or for a product or service to arrive. You can help make the process easier and head off complaints before they start by, once again, managing customer expectations. Let them know ahead of time a reasonable waiting period, and then do your best to meet (or beat) it. Check in with updates, and let them know their patience will be rewarded. Of course, it always helps to streamline your process and work to improve your service so that you can continually deliver faster and give your customers what they really want.
Top Customer Complaints #7: Hidden Costs or Fees
No one likes to be surprised — and no one likes to pay more than they’ve expected. That’s why customers really hate hidden costs or fees, and they will complain about them. And even worse, if they feel you haven’t been upfront about these charges, they may actually feel cheated and lose feelings of loyalty. That’s bad news.
How you can avoid this complaint: Be more clear about what customers will be expected to pay for at every point of the transaction. For example, if you have high shipping fees for some items, be sure to note it on the product page. If customers may incur service fees by taking a certain action, warn them before you let them do it. Or even at a restaurant, if they choose an option that requires an up charge, let them know as soon as they order it — not when they get the bill. For some businesses, it may make sense to offer all inclusive pricing and automatically include the options that customers typically pay fees for.
Top Customer Complaints #8: Difficulty Returning or Refunding Items
When a customer isn’t happy with a product, chances are good they just want to bring it back and get a refund. But when businesses make it difficult to do so, that can lead to serious frustration and complaints.
How you can avoid this complaint: Have a clear return policy so customers understand what they’re getting into. If you simply can’t offer returns on any particular item, say so, and let customers know about it multiple times. But if you do offer returns, make them simple. Allow customers to automate it, or offer to send a free replacement without requiring a return. It’s almost always more valuable to preserve the customer relationship than it is to force your customer to keep a product they no longer want or aren’t happy with.
Top Customer Complaints #9: Billing or Fee Disputes
Financial services, utilities, retail sales, services, and other industries have this problem: issues with billing or fees. It all boils down to customers not understanding their bill, or, genuine issues in how they’re billed or charged for products or services. This problem hits them where it hurts: their wallets, and they often have serious complaints about it.
How you can avoid this complaint: Clarity is key in this situation. As with hidden fees and costs, customers should know ahead of time what they are expected to pay on their bill, or fees that may pop up. Make sure that any invoices you send are detailed, easy to read and understand, and have clear contact information they can use to get help if needed. Customer service agents should be well informed of policies and able to explain problems that customers may have with their bills, or, take a look to ensure that if there is an inaccuracy, they can take action to get it resolved.
Top Customer Complaints #10: Arguing With Customers
Perhaps the most egregious mistake is trying to win a fight against customers. No one wins when you pick a fight with a customer. Whether you disagree on meal substitutions, billing issues, or whether an item can be returned or not, it’s important that you work out differences in a way that shows customers respect and gives them an incentive to continue a positive relationship with you.
How you can avoid this complaint: We’ve all heard that the “customer is always right,” and we all know that this simply isn’t true. Sometimes, the customer is wrong. But at the root of this saying is an acknowledgement that sometimes, you just have to let your customer “win” in order to retain the relationship. They may have sent back a steak that was cooked perfectly to order. They may be complaining about a delivery being “late” when it was actually delivered ahead of schedule. It doesn’t matter. What they’re really telling you is that bottom line, they’re not happy — and it’s up to you to make it better. You don’t have to give them the world, or even everything they ask for, but you do have to give them your respectful attention and a resolution that can make them happy. Sometimes, that means swallowing your pride or eating a cost, but often, it pays off in the end to keep a happy customer.