What to do when customers complain or go quiet on you

What a strange looking prickly plant. With blue stems too – such an unexpected find! I spotted it the day we arrived at the holiday home we’d rented for a family wedding in Wales.

Unfortunately our week didn’t get off to a good start. I realised within minutes of entering the property, that we’d been duped by old pictures and what must have been fake reviews too.

There were two dirty mouldy bathrooms and a kitchen that only looked good on the surface. The inside of cupboards and drawers was a very different story. And the other rooms had evidently not been vacuumed or dusted for some time.

Complaining is always stressful. But a must in my case, as I have a chronic lung disease and being exposed to mould is very bad for me.

For a moment having to complain always feels impossible with your thoughts waging an internal war. It is a negotiation after all. And it can be very stressful because you have no idea how the other party will react. Or what the outcome will be.

The whole sorry experience reminded me why so many people don’t like to complain.  Or go on social media instead to leave a negative review. (Perhaps some try to complain personally but don’t get very far?).

What unhappy customers want

My experience reminded me also that disappointed customers just want to be heard.

Our home owner eventually accepted the sorry state of his house – but only once he stopped making excuses and started listening!

Do you really listen to your customers? Naturally we always welcome praise, but when it comes to feedback or criticism we don’t always know what to do.

Just as we need both sun and rain in the garden… we need praise AND feedback in our business!

It’s actually quite easy for something to go wrong between us and our customers, and for communication to break down.

As a supplier it can be tempting to try and play things down as the owner did with us. As he must have done with previous holiday makers. If they complained, he certainly didn’t take much notice as he hadn’t put things right.

Dealing with a serious complaint is never easy but complaints can get resolved to everyone’s satisfaction by being open to feedback and acting accordingly.  Indeed, more often than not, complaints and reviews can be prevented by checking in with your customers very early on in their customer journey.

Depending on the type of your business, a feedback form may be an easy option. Especially if you announce early in your relationship that you welcome feedback.  A quick phone call or an informal email can work well too.  As long as you give your customer the option to ask questions and voice their opinions. Your job is to listen ever so carefully.

Listening well to your clients, whether through a written feedback process or just a regular verbal check-in is sadly often underrated by busy business owners.

It could be risky to assume that the quiet client is a happy client!

Our story had a satisfactory ending in that we were lucky to find alternative accommodation that same day. And we did eventually receive a refund.

What to do when customers complain or go quiet

Over the years I’ve had lots of situations with clients’ customers that suddenly stopped communicating. It’s happened to me too once and I know it’s not a nice situation to find yourself in.

But there is always a better way than ignoring the possibility that there may be a problem.

I usually ask my clients to put themselves in their customer’s shoes.

So if you were the customer, what would you like your provider (i.e. you!) to do?

Sometimes all we have to do is initiate a conversation, ask questions and then… just listen.

Never forget that feedback is an opportunity to learn. And it can keep good customers happy too!


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