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How to deal with customer complaints

Getting a complaint from your customer is not a great feeling. You work hard to get the best result for your customers, so complaints can feel demoralising. However, a complaint can be easily turned around in the way you deal with it.

Dealing with customer complaints will happen at some point in time for any business.

No matter how thorough you are in your work, ensuring every single customer is completely happy at all times is impossible. There will come a time when someone is unhappy with something.

However, learning how to handle customer complaints professionally, promptly and politely can save the customer relationship. Not to mention, keep your excellent reputation as a professional tradesperson.

We’ve gone to our advisors and Reviews Team Leader team for expert advice on dealing with customer complaints. Here’s what they had to say.

Advice from our Reviews Team Leader, Anne Waterworth

Anne Waterworth on Reviews Team at Checkatrade

When you work with members of the public with different personalities and outlooks, disagreements can happen. And sometimes, no one is at fault.

Expectations differ, communication isn’t clear to both parties, and emotions are high. Suddenly, a perfect storm has arisen where the relationship between you and your customer breaks down.

How to prevent and deal with customer complaints

Here’s what to do to stop and prevent confrontation and disagreements with a customer:

  • Provide an itemised quote – they prevent mix-ups and clear up any confusion over what will and won’t be done before, during and after the job
  • Give clear timeframes for when you can return and stick to them
  • Assumption is the mother of all issues. If you aren’t sure, ask
  • If you think the customer may not have the same expectations as you, check with them. Make sure there’s no confusion or misunderstanding over what’s expected and agreed
  • When you do respond to any complaint, acknowledge and address the customer’s concerns
  • If there is a problem that was caused by you or your team – apologise
  • Look to rectify or resolve the issue when the dispute has cooled down.

For more tips on preventing issues, check out our guides on how to build customer relationships and making the best first impression.

If you’re currently in a dispute with a customer

When you have a difficult customer, take a breath and stay calm.

If you’re messaging each other by text or email, don’t respond in the moment. You can’t stop how customers message, but you can make sure your response doesn’t add fuel to the fire.

You also don’t want to send a message in anger only to regret it moments after sending it.

When sending a contract

To prevent customer disputes, make sure texts are clear and contain:

  • An offer – what you’re going to do and for how much
  • Acceptance – the customer needs to agree to this
  • Payment – Both parties need to receive something

An example of a quick contract adjustment is below:

Example of a contract via WhatsApp from a trade to customer

This stops misunderstandings from the customer and is a record that your contract or changes have been accepted before starting the work.

Don’t delete messages after you’ve worked with a customer

Another way to prevent issues down the line is not deleting messages after you’ve worked with a customer. Issues can arise months after you’ve completed a job.

Sometimes complaints escalate and need a neutral party to decide what’s best going forward.

This could be an ombudsman, court or mediation service. Any of these parties will need to see evidence of what has happened, including quotes, invoices, changes to job etc.

When to think about walking away

If there is no way forward and you can’t come to an agreement, then you need to think about walking away.

Before leaving, you would need to ensure the site is safe and liveable for the customer. Safety should always be the number one concern.

Returning or removing the costs to the customer for the work that won’t be done is fair. A breakdown of the costs and why this amount is to be returned or removed from the final invoice will help ease any worries for your customer.

This is also good to have in case the customer disagrees and takes this further.

Difficult customers are rare, but if you find yourself with one, the Reviews team is here to talk through your options and advise on the best way forward.

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Dealing with customer complaints

Put emotions to one side when handling customer complaints

When you’ve worked tirelessly on a job, it can be crushing when an angry email, phone call or public complaint comes in.

This is usually made worse when unhappy customers are rude when expressing their displeasure. When responding to a customer complaint, it can be tempting to hit back in response, or dismiss the complaint entirely.

Neither of these is an appropriate scenario. As any reputable tradesperson will tell you, that won’t help your reputation in the long term.

Putting aside any negative emotions you’re feeling when responding to a customer complaint is essential.

How to handle customer complaints

Tackle the problem quickly and efficiently

If the complaint is over something which can be easily changed and fixed, then do so for an easier life.

In some cases, it may seem easier to provide a refund and cut your losses. But if you can put things right, then do – even if it means cutting into your own time and profit.

Offering a refund or a reduced price may seem like a blow to business. However, it could be a small price to pay to keep a customer satisfied.

Encourage customer loyalty

The key to any successful trade business is a good reputation based on the responses of many loyal customers.

Keep people on your side, and they will return to you in the future. Building a good reputation will also encourage customers to give you a good review and recommend you.

Remember, online reviews can greatly impact on businesses, so it’s crucial to avoid bad ones.

Follow up on customer complaints

Once you have dealt with the customer complaint appropriately, you must follow this up. You can do this either with a courtesy call or a letter of apology (if you’re at fault).

This should detail information about the complaint and the changes made to fix any errors. You may also want to include a note to apologise once again for any inconvenience caused to the customer.

This simple step could go a long way in helping you build and maintain that positive reputation that every tradesperson thrives on.


Resolving customer complaints

When a customer posts negative feedback on Checkatrade, we’ll contact you before this appears on our website.

You’ll then have seven days to get in touch with your customer and work towards a resolution. This may even lead to the review being withdrawn.

To learn more about customers’ process when making a complaint, check out our resolving issues guide.

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What to do when it’s going wrong and you sense a complaint ahead?

Are you currently working on a project which you can already sense is going wrong? Has the customer begun hinting towards their negative feelings towards the task? It’s not too late to save this from turning into a complaint.

One of the best ways of dealing with customer complaints is to address them before they are formally made.

Communication is key. If you have an inkling that your client is unhappy, speak to them. Ask them how they’re feeling about the work completed so far. Keep them in the loop. Explain to them the details of the process.

Are you going to be delayed? Discuss this with them as far in advance as possible. Communicating clearly and effectively with clients is such an important step to take in order to keep them happy.

We would always recommend speaking to clients face-to-face or over the phone if possible. Vocal communication will help you build a relationship more than emails ever will.

customer service

How to deal with difficult scenarios

There are some difficult scenarios that will require legal assistance. Some clients won’t be satisfied with the job, no matter how you try to resolve things.

In these circumstances, it’s important to seek legal aid. Citizens Advice will be able to provide you with further information. This way, you can ensure you approach things in a way that does not negatively impact your business.

What if my customer changes their mind mid-way through the job?

This is a tricky scenario and one that must be handled with care.

Of course, it’s too late to consider things like signing contracts before work begins. However, this is something to bear in mind for any future jobs.

In this circumstance, we would advise you to seek legal assistance to develop a fair and reasonable solution that will cover your costs and keep your customer satisfied.

What if my customer agrees to a specification change but then does not like the end result?

Any changes to the initial brief and specification must be made in writing. This will cover both parties.

In this scenario, communicating clearly with your client to find out what they are unhappy with is usually key. They could very well be satisfied with a minor change.

Discuss with them, and if communication proves to be difficult, consider a mediation company that can take charge of the process.

What if my customer has asked for additional extras and then refuses to pay, stating that they believed they would be included in the initial quote?

In this circumstance, seek legal aid. It may be that if the amount due is minimal. Swallowing your losses could, therefore, be the most suitable option to keep your customers satisfied.

In the future, it’s important that additional costs are provided clearly to clients in writing before any work is carried out. This means they agree to the new quote and means you can avoid any nasty scenarios where you’re out of pocket.

If you require additional assistance in handling customer complaints, look at our member’s area to find more useful content.

Useful checklist for dealing with customer complaints

  • Listen, listen, listen! Take in everything your customer says in detail, so you can investigate the issue, and your customer feels like you care
  • Stay as calm as you can, even if your customer becomes angry, and work towards diffusing the situation
  • Try not to take the complaint personally or let it upset you
  • Try to come to a resolution as soon as possible and keep your customer informed
  • You can avoid complaints by communicating with your customer, trying to stay on track and be polite and professional

From preventing escalation to defusing situations, learning how to handle customer complaints is crucial to any business. Following these tips will help you manage yours when they occur and maintain an excellent reputation with existing and future customers.

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This information is for guidance purposes only and does not amount to financial or legal advice or recommendation. The content and materials featured or linked to on this blog are for your information and education only and are not intended to address your particular personal requirements. The information does not constitute financial advice or recommendation and should not be considered as such. The Checkatrade website is not regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), its authors are not financial advisors, and it is therefore not authorised to offer financial advice. Always do your own research and seek independent financial advice when required. Any arrangement made between you and any third party named or linked to from the site is at your sole risk and responsibility. Checkatrade blog and its associated writers assume no liability for your actions.

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What others think of this article:

David Morris

Excellent article. Most problems arise from poor communication. Listening to the customer is key. Also keeping the customer informed when problems arise. Don't try to hide a problem. Involve the customer in what should be done to fix the problem, don't assume.

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