Customer complaints: Definition, examples, and resolution tips (2023)

Article| 15 min read

Customer complaints may not be ideal, but they can help make your business better. Here’s how to handle them in an impactful way.

By Alaina Franklin,Director, Customer Success

Last updated November 22, 2022

  • Customer satisfaction

Customer complaints: Definition, examples, and resolution tips (1)

No business can completely skirt the reality of customer complaints, no matter how diligently you focus oncustomer service. There will always be an off day or unfortunate circumstance that leads a customer to complain.

For companies that know how to handle consumer complaints, these issues can become more of an opportunity than a liability. A complaint is a chance to strengthen your relationship with a customer and improve your product or service. The key is being able to assess and resolve consumer complaints efficiently and effectively.

In this guide:

  • What are customer complaints?
  • Benefits of customer complaints
  • How to analyze customer complaints
  • Customer complaint resolution

What are customer complaints? 8 examples you may encounter

Customer complaints are pieces of negative feedback about a company’s product, service, or support experience. Consumers havehigh standards for customer service, and complaints often occur when those expectations aren’t met.

This type ofcustomer feedbackis usually communicated directly to a business, either in an email to the support team, a survey, or afeedback form. But sometimes, customers will express their dissatisfaction in public channels such as social media, community forums, and online review sites.

We’ve rounded up some common customer complaints and ways to handle them correctly.

1. Long wait times

By the time a customer calls you with a complaint, they’re already feeling frustrated. Putting them on hold or making them wait in a queue for a long time often exacerbates their issue.

The fix:Long wait times could mean the volume is too high for yourcustomer service teamto handle. Take a look at the peaks and valleys in contact center demand, and try to staff those times to match. You may also be able to deflect some inquiries by includingself-service optionsthat enable customers to find solutions on their own.

2. Inability to speak with a human

Automated phone systems or bots can help answer common questions, but callers get irritated when they get stuck in a loop without any way to talk to a live representative.

The fix:Offer direct support on various channels—phone, messaging apps, live chat, and email—and adopt anomnichannel customer serviceapproach. This allows agents to easily switch between channels without losing customer context. For example, if someone reaches out to your support team on Facebook Messenger but then wants to speak to an agent over the phone, an omnichannel approach ensures your team can continue the conversation seamlessly.

3. Unsupportive agents

Over 30 percent of consumerssay friendly support agents are key to a good customer experience. When your agents don’t have the rightcustomer service skillsfor the job, it leaves a bad impression on buyers. And when a customer is already upset, an unfriendly agent only escalates the situation.

The fix:You’ll want to solve this customer service complaint proactively. Hire caring agents andprovide empathy trainingfor existing team members. A good service recovery program can also help remedy angry customers after the fact. For example, Birchbox encourages its agents to follow up with customers who rated their initial interaction poorly.

4. Needing to repeat information

Customers will start to feel frustrated if they have to repeat their issue multiple times, and they’ll reward businesses that save them from needing to do so. TheZendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2022found that 92 percent of consumers will spend more with companies that ensure they don’t have to repeat themselves.

The fix:Customer service software likeZendeskcan remove this pain point from the process. The right tech stack can connect your agents with the information and context they need to effectively help a customer—no repetition required. Agents can see complete customer profiles so they can resolve issues faster.

5. Inconvenient customer service hours

Customer complaints: Definition, examples, and resolution tips (2)

We live in a world where people can order something online and have it delivered the next morning. So, it’s no surprise that consumers expect quick and convenient customer service. According to theSprout Social Index, 40 percent of consumers expect a response from businesses within an hour, while 79 percent expect a reply within the first 24 hours.

The fix:Provide support on-demand. AnAI chatbotis a great way to expand your customer service hours. When agents are off the clock, a bot can handle the repetitive, basic queries that come in. Chatbots can also capture preliminary customer information and create tickets for agents to address when they’re back at their desks.

Global companies may also want to try afollow-the-sun model, a type of workflow in which customer issues can be handled by and passed between offices in different time zones. This can help increase responsiveness and reduce wait times.

6. Difficulty finding relevant information

Many customers want to take care of problems themselves:83 percentwill spend more with companies that allow them to find answers independently. Yet, only one-third of companies offer some form of customer self-service—whether through a help center, chatbots, or an FAQ page.

The fix:A stellar knowledge management system is the best way to handle this complaint. But building aknowledge baseoronline communityis only the first step. Customers also complain when self-service resources are out of date, so you’ll want to have a plan for refreshing your online content. AnAI-powered knowledge basecan flag outdated articles and recommend new ones to write.

7. Lack of support channel variety

According to our CX Trends Report, 93 percent of consumers will spend more with businesses that offer their preferred communication channels, whether that’s email, phone, or text.

So if you offer support on only one channel, customers are likely to complain, especially if it’s a channel that’s inconvenient for them.

The fix:Invest in channels that your customers frequently use. You want to meet customers where they are and make it easy for them to reach out via their preferred method.PayJoy, for example, integrated a chat tool into its customer service offerings—leading to a higher customer satisfaction score and a 55-percent decrease in inbound calls.

8. Poor service or product

Sometimes, customers simply aren’t going to like what you offer. While it might be tough to hear the criticism, listening to an upset customer can be a valuable learning experience.

The fix:When customers come to you with complaints about your products or services, take note of what they’re suggesting could be better. This can help inform growth decisions and ensure you’re always working to improve.

Benefits of customer complaints for your business

Customers don’t complain just to make you look bad—they want you to respond with a solution and do better as a company. If you handle the feedback well, you can turn a negative situation into a positive one while learning along the way.

“Customer complaints are the biggest opportunity a business has to repair a fractured relationship with a customer.”Jonathan Brummel, director of enterprise support at Zendesk

Though complaints may be disappointing, they’re also a valuable resource to gain a better understanding of your customers and what they need. Other benefits of negative feedback include:

  • Preventing a dissatisfied customer from churning
  • Revealing customer pain points
  • Building a positive brand reputation (if handled well)
  • Creating opportunities for people to engage with your customer service team, leading to a better, more personal relationship with your brand

How to analyze feedback

Use customer complaints as a diving board to launch you into a pool of growth. With the rightcustomer service software, your team can record complaints so they can be analyzed and shared with other departments across the business. You can also use surveys or community forums to collect customer feedback proactively.

Here are a few guiding questions when analyzing customer complaints:

  • Has this happened to the customer before?
  • Have other customers experienced this as well?
  • What team does this impact and how can you be sure they see the feedback?
  • What is your company’s policy for resolving the complaint? For example, do you offer a full refund for a dress that ripped three months after purchase?
  • How can you make sure the customer doesn’t experience this again?

Consider aVoice of the Customer (VoC) program, a program that businesses use to collect and analyze customer feedback about their brand, products, or services.

Customer complaints: Definition, examples, and resolution tips (3)

How to structure your customer service department

Learn more about the key steps for structuring your customer service team with this free guide.

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Customer complaint resolution: 10 steps for solving customer pain points

Customer complaint resolution is a form of service recovery that enables a business to resolve a customer complaint and improve the customer’s experience. Here are 10 best practices for efficient complaint resolution.

1. Make answers easily accessible

Your customers probably have a need for speed, and that means it’s time to bring out your top guns. A searchable and accessible knowledge base can help agents and customers alike get the answers they need quickly.

When agents can readily find answers, they not only provide faster support but also have more time to tackle bigger issues.

An accessible knowledge base can also empower customers to solve problems on their own. Use chatbots and keywords to make it easier for users to find what they need, and organize your knowledge index to maximize efficiency. For example: at Zendesk, our knowledge base is organized by solution because clients often have product-specific questions.

2. Ensure relevant details move with the customer across channels

Customers who have to repeat themselves throughout the complaint process may end up feeling frustrated with your brand as a whole.

Arm your team withintegrated support softwarethat houses all customer information in one centralized location. This allows agents to find the relevant details about each customer—including their grievance, contact information, and purchase history—from the moment they start communicating with them. The conversation can stay connected, no matter how the customer chooses to interact.

3. Look at complaint data

Individual consumer complaints don’t exist in a vacuum. When one customer struggles with an issue, others have likely been in the same situation.

Use customer service software to track all the tickets that come in so you can see trends in customer feedback. Did support tickets spike after the release of a new feature? Do customer concerns get resolved at a snail’s pace? Are clients satisfied with their support interactions?

Leverage that data to amplify the voice of the customer and improve the overall customer experience.

4. Understand your customers

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution forhandling customer complaints—even irate customers don’t all want the same thing. Some want a refund, while others care more about an apology. The right response will depend on the type of customer and the specific situation.

Some types of customers you might encounter include:

  • Angry customers:They often feel they’ve been wronged and want to express themselves, so let them speak without interrupting. Listen to the problem, try to understand what went wrong, and search for a solution. Whendealing with angry customers, sometimes it helps to use templates that can de-escalate the situation.
  • Impatient customers:They want things done at their own pace, which is usually at breakneck speed. Reassure them by letting them know you’re trying to resolve their issue as fast as possible.
  • Vague customers:They don’t provide many details and may even say a lot without saying enough. Ask probing questions to pull out the information you need. You can also clarify their statements by saying, “Just so I’m clear,” and repeating what they said to you.
  • Demanding customers:They aren’t easily satisfied and expect more than you can give. Apologize for the inconvenience they experience and try to resolve their problem quickly.
  • Challenging customers:They usually have fixed opinions and might want to tell you how to do your job. Suggest solutions but don’t force your advice on the customer.

Customers may fall into one, two, or even three of these buckets. Knowing how to identify which type of customer you’re dealing with can help you serve them better.

5. Cultivate the right tone of voice

It’s common sense that pouring gasoline on a fire is only going to make it burn hotter and brighter. Confrontational customers can be similarly temperamental, so even though it’s challenging to stay calm and collected when dealing with an angry buyer, it’s paramount that agents do so.

Agents must strive to diffuse the situation with measured responses while remaining human. Be empathetic, curious, helpful, and knowledgeable. It’s a tricky balance to find but one that makes a big difference. A simple statement, like “I understand” or “I’m here and ready to help,” can go a long way.

6. Use reflective listening

When someone’s upset, one of the main things they want is to feel heard. With this in mind, don’t try to resolve consumer complaints before you’ve taken the time to understand them. Start by being present and using reflective listening. Repeat the customer’s complaint back to them to confirm you understand.

To ensure you have the full context, ask the right questions. For instance, if you’re a B2B company, you’ll want to ask questions that help you get a grasp on what’s happening internally at that client’s company.

7. Acknowledge their frustrations

Sometimes, customers may be frustrated with things that are beyond your control. Other times, though, you’ll find yourself in the wrong. Taking responsibility for your actions demonstrates that your business values integrity, which will increase the customer’s confidence in you.

Be empathetic about their complaints and affirm their feelings. For instance, saying something like, “If I was in your spot, I would be disappointed too,” shows the customer that you’re on their side and that they’ve been heard.

8. Set realistic expectations

Be upfront with customers about how long it may take to resolve their issue or how much you can do for them—and don’t make promises you can’t keep. People will often be understanding of any limitations on what an agent can offer, as long as a reasonable expectation is communicated from the start.

Although you might feel like you’re letting a customer down, committing to honest communication is imperative. Be real with the customer and remember that you’re not a machine. It’s okay if you can’t get them the solution they’re looking for right away.

9. Present a solution

Once you understand the problem at hand, follow up and determine the best path forward—whether that’s talking the customer through troubleshooting steps, sending a replacement product, offering a refund, or genuinely apologizing when you can’t deliver what they were hoping for. Give them something so they walk away feeling better about the brand.

10. Log the complaint

After you resolve the complaint, take the time to learn from the experience and help others do the same. Log it in an internal database so you can use it to inform future decision-making, and let other agents use it as an example if they run into a similar situation.

This helps you deliver better, faster customer service and keep track of valuable data, which can alert you to a larger-scale issue if you receive service requests or complaints about the same problem.

Be proactive about complaints

While it’s important to have a strategy in place for reacting to customer complaints, it’s even better to proactively reduce the chances of them happening in the first place. Anticipatingcustomer needsis key.

You can be proactive by:

  • Sendingcustomer surveysto ask how you can improve your products, services, or support interactions. Use that information to provide superior experiences.
  • Not ignoring potential issues. Sometimes, when a customer reaches out about one problem, you’ll notice another arising on the side. Don’t be afraid to speak up, even if it doesn’t relate to their original request.
  • Using AIto predict bad satisfaction ratings before they occur.

If you’re about to lose a customer and your win-back plan fails, don’t make it hard for them to leave—this can turn a calm customer into an angry complainer. It’s better to let them go on a good note than to have them leave with a sour taste in their mouth.

Quick answers to common questions

How do you deal with customer complaints?

Companies that effectively deal with customer complaints use customer feedback as an opportunity to learn, improve, and prevent a buyer from churning. They take the steps needed to resolve the customer’s issue and share the feedback with the right team.

What are the most common complaints?

Some of the top issues customers complain about include long wait times, an automated system that makes it difficult to reach a human agent, and having to repeat information multiple times.

How can customers file a complaint against a company?

Businesses should make it easy for customers to get help when they experience issues and provide feedback by supporting them over the channels they use most. CSAT surveys are also a great way to glean customer feedback and learn why a customer might be dissatisfied.

Use complaints as a building block

Just like Simon and Garfunkel, all business owners strive to “keep the customer satisfied.” And we get it—no one likes to be critiqued. But in the business world, it’s inevitable.

Use negative feedback as an opportunity to learn and grow. It can help reveal pain points in your business model and shortcomings in your customer experience, enabling you to take action andimprove your customer relationships.


How do you answer customer complaints examples? ›

Hello, [Customer Name], I've had a chance to review your complaint, and I'd like to apologize for [Issue]. Thank you for taking the time to share that with me so I can make it right. [Rephrase issue] is something that our team at [Company] doesn't take lightly.

What are some examples of customer complaints? ›

What are customer complaints? 8 examples you may encounter
  • Long wait times. ...
  • Inability to speak with a human. ...
  • Unsupportive agents. ...
  • Needing to repeat information. ...
  • Inconvenient customer service hours. ...
  • Difficulty finding relevant information. ...
  • Lack of support channel variety. ...
  • Poor service or product.
Nov 22, 2022

What are the five 5 steps in complaints resolution? ›

A 5-step process for handling customer complaints
  • Step 1: Dig deeper by asking the right questions. ...
  • Step 2: Identify the type of customer you're dealing with. ...
  • Step 3: Respond to the customer quickly. ...
  • Step 4: Present a solution, and verify that the problem is solved. ...
  • Step 5: Log the complaint so you can track trends.
7 days ago

How to handle customer complaints interview question and answer? ›

Consider these tips when preparing an answer to the "How do you handle an angry customer?" interview question:
  1. Avoid using humor. Some interviewers don't mind incorporating humor during your answers to help show your personality. ...
  2. Be mindful of your body language. ...
  3. Be respectful. ...
  4. Provide a direct answer. ...
  5. Tell the truth.
Mar 10, 2023

What are the four 4 steps in responding to customer complaints? ›

4 steps to handling a customer complaint
  • Identify the problem. The first thing to do in the case of a complaint is identify the problem. ...
  • Rectify the problem. ...
  • Follow up on the problem. ...
  • Learn from the problem.
Jan 17, 2020

What are the 4 types of customer complaints? ›

When customers are dissatisfied with the service you're providing, they will be one of four kinds of complainers: aggressive, expressive, passive or constructive.

What is a complaint sample? ›

I wish to complain about ____ (name of product or service, with serial number or account number) that I purchased on ____ (date and location of transaction). I am complaining because ____ (the reason you are dissatisfied). To resolve this problem I would like you to ____ (what you want the business to do).

How do you respond to an unhappy customer? ›

Apologize for the customer's negative experience, show empathy and understanding. Take responsibility for whatever your company may have done wrong. Provide an explanation for the situation, if possible, and ensure it will not happen again. Offer some incentive, a reasonable discount or refund, where appropriate.

What are the 5 C's of complaint? ›

The practice of law is just that, a practice. The 5Cs: competence, civility, curiosity, credibility, and confidence can be learned or improved upon no matter if you are a recent grad or a grizzled veteran.

How do you deal with difficult customers? ›

10 tips on how to deal with difficult customers
  1. Keep calm throughout the interaction. ...
  2. Engage in active listening. ...
  3. Practice empathy. ...
  4. Don't make promises you can't keep. ...
  5. Take a moment to breathe. ...
  6. Provide quick responses and solutions. ...
  7. Pay close attention to tone and body language. ...
  8. Personalize each experience.
Jun 21, 2022

What is the best way to respond to an angry customer? ›

Take your customer's frustration seriously, but not personally. Remain calm and actively listen to what your customer says. When you've confirmed you understand their frustration, thank them for communicating it, and tell them you'll get back to them with a solution.

What is a good complaints procedure? ›

An effective complaints process should:
  • Have a named point of contact. ...
  • Use simple language that is easy to follow. ...
  • Be accessible. ...
  • Be as straightforward as possible. ...
  • Be clear about what will happen at each stage and how long each stage should take.

Can you give me an example of how you have solved a problem at work? ›

Examples of Problem Solving Scenarios in the Workplace

Solving any problems related to money, customer billing, accounting and bookkeeping, etc. Finding a way to make the company more profitable through new service or product offerings, new pricing ideas, promotion and sale ideas, etc.

What are the 6 steps in handling a customer complaint? ›

6 Steps to Deal with Customer Complaints
  • Create a clear client complaint policy.
  • Ask for and listen to your customer feedback.
  • Keep clear records and ask for documentation.
  • Provide swift, personalised engagement with customers.
  • Provide a clear solution to the customer complaint.
  • Follow up with customers.

What are the 4 R's of customer service? ›

To create a differentiated customer experience—and a more profitable business—here are some key considerations to keep in mind: relevance, readiness, reliability, rate, and refine.

What are the four 4 key principles of good customer service? ›

There are four key principles of good customer service: It's personalized, competent, convenient, and proactive. These factors have the biggest influence on the customer experience.

What are the 5 key factors of complaints handling? ›

It should be easily accessible. It should be responsive. It should be objective and fair. It should maintain confidentiality.

What are the 5 categories of complaints? ›

It's time to discover these customer personalities and learn how to effectively deal with their different types of complaints.
  • The Meek Complainer Personality Type. ...
  • The Aggressive Complainer Personality Type. ...
  • The High-Roller Complainer Personality Type. ...
  • The Rip-Off Complainer Personality Type.
Sep 30, 2021

What are the appropriate words for responding to a complaint? ›

Here are several common expressions we use in English to do that:
  • I'm really sorry to hear that. I understand how difficult/frustrating/disappointing that would be.
  • I sincerely apologize. ...
  • I apologize for the inconvenience/the problem.
  • I'm terribly sorry. ...
  • I understand why you are upset/angry/frustrated. ...
  • I'm really sorry.
Oct 11, 2017

How do you respond to customer needs and positively? ›

Overarching principles for communicating with customers
  1. Be open and honest. ...
  2. Be grateful for their effort. ...
  3. Be courteous, not scripted. ...
  4. Don't make promises you can't keep. ...
  5. Show understanding. ...
  6. Find their real need. ...
  7. Offer workarounds. ...
  8. Give an honest explanation.

How do you say complaint professionally? ›

Here are five simple tips to help you stay calm, be polite and get what you want when you complain in English.
  1. Start politely. ...
  2. Make your request into a question. ...
  3. Explain the problem. ...
  4. Don't blame the person you are dealing with. ...
  5. Show the you are in the know.

What is step 4 when dealing with a complaint positively? ›

Follow-up and thank your customer for their business.

Thank the customer for bringing the situation to your attention and for the opportunity to resolve it. Let the customer know that you appreciate their business and that you look forward to seeing them again.

How do you respond to a customer who is angry or upset? ›

Acknowledge their frustration and restate it back to them in your own words. Align with them, let them know you've heard and understand that it's a big deal. Assure them you will resolve the issue if you are not able to do so in the first email.

What if the customer is not happy with your answer or solution? ›

The very first thing you should do when you have an unhappy customer on your hands is apologize and show empathy. While you may not believe that the customer is always right, the fact of the matter is that their demands need to be heard. As you apologize, you must show remorse.

What do you say to a disappointed customer? ›

Best Ways to Communicate with an Upset Customer
  • Tell angry customers “I hear you” Don't mistake saying “I hear you” with “I understand.” While semantically they may seem very similar, to a customer, these mean wholly different things. ...
  • Don't be afraid to admit mistakes. ...
  • Side with your customers, not against them.
Feb 2, 2022

What are the 4 main customer needs? ›

The four key customer needs
  • A fair price.
  • A good service.
  • A good product.
  • To feel valued.
Aug 31, 2020

How do you satisfy customer needs? ›

10 Ways to Meet and Satisfy Your Customer's Needs
  1. Understand Your Customer's Needs.
  2. Listen to their Feedback.
  3. Set Realistic Expectations.
  4. Pay Attention to Your Competitors.
  5. Be Consistent in Communicating with Your Customers.
  6. Take User Experience as a Priority 
  7. Foster Loyalty through Proactive Customer Relations.
Feb 18, 2023

What can you do to make your customers feel valued? ›

Photos courtesy of the individual members.
  • Genuinely Thank Your Customers. ...
  • Tell Them You're Thinking Of Them. ...
  • Be There For Them After The Sale Closed. ...
  • Listen, Then Remember. ...
  • Always Tell Them The Truth. ...
  • Show You Are Acting On Their Feedback. ...
  • Show Your Appreciation With A Handwritten Note. ...
  • Give Them A Gift You Know They'll Like.
Feb 24, 2020


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