5 common customer complaints and their solutions

James Walker, founder and CEO of, the winner of the The Pitch 2015, the UK’s biggest small business competition, examines the most common customer complaints and how you can fix them.

“Have you had an accident that wasn’t your fault? Where there’s blame, there’s a claim.”

“Are you owed thousands of pounds due to mis-sold PPI?”

Lines like these scream at us from our TVs, radios and magazines. Take them at face value, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that money and compensation is all that the British consumer is after when they complain.

customer service person

Yet my experience of issues raised via our online issue-resolution tool is far more complex than that. Sure, there are plenty of cases where people want – and may well deserve – some sort of monetary compensation, but they’ll almost certainly be after some form of apology, too. Then there are those who want an apology only, and still others who want to see action taken to sort out the problem they’ve encountered to ensure the same thing doesn’t happen again to themselves or to others.

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Of course, the sorts of complaints an individual company will receive depend entirely on the sort of services or goods they offer. The appropriate responses will vary hugely, too.

In short, assessing complaints and how to respond to them is an extremely delicate business, and every complaint is different, but there are certain categories of complaints and general customer service issues that we see more regularly than others via – here are some of the most common:

1) The compensation claim

This sort of complaint tends to be linked to some sort of legislation and is likely to be part of a groundswell of other complaints in a similar vein. This could be because of a news campaign, a change in the law or a precedent-setting court case.

Whatever the cause, it’s likely the best response will be to pay up and put up. This is generally because, whenever there’s a large-scale compensation opportunity, solicitors and specialist claims management companies will spring up and force an industry to pay, so taking the path of least resistance will generally be better in the long run.

The ongoing PPI saga is a classic example of this where banks, with public confidence in them at rock-bottom, were found to have consistently mis-sold payment protection insurance. Another example is flight-delay compensation, where recent court cases have caused a flood of claims against airlines.

2) The replacement

This is one of two types of common complaints related to products – if a customer buys something (whether physically on the high street or online) that subsequently breaks, they are likely to be entitled to a replacement. This is obviously one of the simplest complaints to resolve, and a swift, efficient response should result in a happy customer. Mind you, a gesture of goodwill in addition will often ensure the customer remains loyal.

3) The service failure

Another very common issue – and potentially more complex to resolve – is some sort of failure on the part of a service provider paid for by a regular subscription or bill. This could be anything from a poorly installed broadband connection to a water leak to a problem with domestic gas supply.

The way to resolve an issue like this will often be specified in the customer’s terms of service, and can be defined by legislation, too. This makes resolution easier, as there is a clear path to take. As long as the customer is made aware of this, then you should be able to come out of it with a happy customer. But communication is key.

4) The apology

Surprisingly often, a simple ‘we’re sorry’ is all that a dissatisfied customer wants to hear. As far as these complainers are concerned, the issue is about respect, and about a sense that their concerns are listened to. The key is identifying when a customer will be satisfied with nothing more than a sincere apology. Be wary, though – an ignored request for apology can result in a customer venting their frustration on social media.

5) The suggestion for improvement

This is similar to the apology but, crucially, the customer getting in contact wants to offer feedback on how a service or product could be improved. Even if the requested changes are not possible, as long as the person raising the issue feels they are being heard you should be able to reach a satisfactory outcome.

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