Complaints are simply a fact of life when it comes to business. And whether the blame lies with you or on circumstances beyond your control, you still need to address these unhappy customers and do what you can to make things right. Handle the complaint well, and you can turn a disgruntled customer into a fan. Handle it poorly, and that sole voice of dissent can wreak havoc on your online reputation.
According to researchers Allen F. Wysocki, Karl W. Kepner, and Michelle W. Glasser, complaining customers can be divided into five categories. In their paper, which was published by the University of Florida, they outline these customer archetypes and then offer suggestions for dealing with their complaints effectively.
The Meek Complainer
Meek Complainers tend to avoid confrontation and won’t make their complaints known at the time. In fact, unless you are actively seeking customer feedback, you may never know the Meek Complainer was dissatisfied with the service he or she received.
You need to reach out to these customers to solicit comments and complaints, and then do whatever is necessary to address their concerns.
The Aggressive Complainer
Unlike the Meek Complainer, the Aggressive Complainer complains loudly to any and all who will listen. Aggressive Complainers don’t respond well to those who are aggressive in return, and they tend to be dismissive of excuses or reasons for the unsatisfactory experience.
The best response for Aggressive Complainers is to listen to their complaints, acknowledge the problem, and let them know exactly how and when it will be resolved.
The High-Roller Complainer
This type of customer expects the absolute best and is quite willing to pay for it. Some High-Roller Complainers are reasonable when making their complaints, but others may behave more like Aggressive Complainers.
The High-Roller Complainer wants to know what you are going to do to recover from the breakdown in customer service. Rather than offer excuses, your best approach is to listen respectfully and ask questions to get to the root of the problem.
The Rip-Off Complainer
Rip-Off Complainers aren’t really looking to resolve the issue. Instead, they’re more interested in getting something they’re not entitled to receive. If your attempts to mollify a customer are met with an incessant response of “Not good enough,” then odds are you’re dealing with a Rip-Off Complainer.
When handling complaints of this type, your best bet is to stay objective and keep your own personal feelings in check. Back up your position with actual, quantifiable data, and make sure you document everything.
If this customer does respond with “Not good enough,” then you might consider asking what he or she would like you to do to make things right. Just make sure that your response is in keeping with your established policy for customer complaints.
The Chronic Complainer
These customers are never satisfied and will always find something wrong. As frustrating as this can be, it’s important to remember that they are your customers and you can’t simply dismiss their complaints.
Responding to the Chronic Complainer takes extraordinary patience. As with the Rip-Off Complainer, it’s important to stay calm and collected. According to Wysocki, et. al., “[a] sympathetic ear, a sincere apology, and an honest effort to correct the situation are likely to be the most productive.”
Unlike Rip-Off Complainers, Chronic Complainers can be quite reasonable and will appreciate your attempts to redress the situation. In fact, despite their constant kvetching, they tend to be good customers and will happily tell others about your positive response to their complaints.
Obviously, not all complaining customers will fit neatly into these categories. There’s bound to be some overlap. However, once you become familiar with these complaint patterns and learn to respond appropriately, you’ll hopefully find it easier to deal with whatever customer complaints do come your way.
Wysocki, Allen F., Karl W. Kepner, and Michelle W. Glasser, Customer Complaints and Types of Customers, University of Florida
From time to time we republish some of our popular posts that are still relevant. A version of this blog post originally appeared on May 8, 2014 under the title “5 Types of Complaining Customers (and How to Handle Them).”