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Turn an upset client into a happy one

Handling complaints is not a pleasant task. But if you do it properly it can even strengthen your customer relationship. Check our hands-on examples and learn how to deal best with customer complaints.

In whatever industry, no matter how hard you try, client complaints can’t always be avoided. But, how you respond to them can make all the difference. Handled positively and effectively, a complaint can be used to build a client relationship – instead of being a reason to end it.

Depending on the type of business or service you’re in, complaints can vary from simple dissatisfaction which is quickly resolved to more serious complaints that require far more time and careful handling. Quickly identifying the type of complaint is key to adopting the right approach for dealing with it.

Let’s look at a few complaint examples and some positive ways to handle them successfully:

“I was promised a range of design services but your company hasn’t delivered!”
Marc, the design company’s sales consultant knows from experience that the most challenging complaints are the ones about promises that are not or cannot be kept. He realises the urgency of the client’s complaint and immediately flags his manager. Attempting to respond as quickly as possible, it is agreed that Marc makes an apology and offers an explanation.

However, this approach doesn’t satisfy the client, so Marc’s manager, Ben steps in. Clearly understanding the situation, he acknowledges the client’s problem, demonstrates a real willingness to resolve the issue and talks to the client about their expectations. Ben knows it’s important to find out first whether what they expect is realistic and in line with his consultancy’s offering. He works closely with the client and agrees on a way forward with them which leads to another contract.

Learning from the situation, Ben also makes it clear to his staff that when they promise something to clients in order to build a relationship or to respond to a complaint, that it is essential to make sure that they deliver on their promises.

“Our IT system has been down for hours but as our IT providers you just don’t seem to care.”
The responsible IT consultant, Jon, knows that his company cares and quickly tries to find a solution. Instead of jumping on the defensive, he turns the situation around by not underplaying the complaint. Aware that complaints are often more emotional than rational, he listens attentively and empathises with the client.

Jon shows that he understands the client’s dilemma and expresses his regret for the inconvenience. He emphasises that their issue is a priority for his IT team but clearly explains the challenges involved in solving it. Moving forward, Jon gets the client’s input and support along the way and provides regular progress updates. The client feels well-cared for and this strengthens the business relationship both in the short and long term.

“Your HR consultancy didn’t deliver results in one of the countries in which we operate.”
As the account manager for the consultancy, Riek’s first instinct is to defend their services. Instead he takes a step back and decides to look closely at the situation first. This leads him to address the client’s complaint from a different angle with a ‘bigger picture’ perspective.

Riek points out that the consultancy collaborates with the client in seven countries and that, based on feedback and monitoring, their services always delivered positive results. Hearing this, the client reveals that it is actually only one unhappy colleague who is complaining. Riek’s well thought out approach successfully creates a platform for developing a specific solution with his client for the one country, based on the strengths of his consultancy’s services and the good long-term relationship.

“Our raw material order is overdue and instead of receiving an answer, I keep getting transferred from person to person.”
Michelle, the purchasing manager, understands that all customers want their complaints addressed in a straight-forward way without having to ‘fight’ for results. She puts herself in her customer’s shoes and most importantly, she takes ownership of the situation.

Although not every complaint can be resolved immediately, Michelle handles the complaint swiftly and proactively. She ensures that the customer can see her commitment to finding answers for them. So that the customer isn’t forced to check up on progress themselves but can plan their production successfully, she provides frequent updates.  Michelle’s approach helps to re-establish the customer’s trust in her company. 

Keeping negativity out of the picture
Dealing with complaints can be demoralising. Whereas compliments can make you feel taller, complaints are actually an opportunity to grow as well. Customer complaints should always get your immediate attention. Whether right or wrong, by adopting a positive, proactive approach you can nudge out the negativity. Making it clear that you’re making an effort to remedy something that’s gone wrong is a sign of great customer service. Combining this with accountability is refreshing in a strained relationship and can result in a good outcome for both sides.

Three top tips:


• A complaint is an expression of a need. So focus on determining what the client needs
  and how you can help to address it.
• Listen carefully and acknowledge, and only then start to find a solution.
• Put the client and the solution first, and have one point of contact.

This article is based on the input of Krauthammer consultants Léon de Vries, Marco van Barneveld, Thijs Westerkamp and Jos Velthuis.  

Why isn’t your prospect becoming a customer?

Follow Peter’s efforts in building a sales pipeline from scratch. Learn from his prospecting errors and how he recovers from them.


Peter recently switched industries to work in sales for a new company. Right from the start, Peter felt the pressure to build his sales pipeline. So, he plunged right in and put in the hours, but prospects were just not becoming customers. His sales goals seemed to drift further from reach every day. What was he doing wrong? Could he learn from his prospecting mistakes and turn them into strategies for success?

1. Targeting everybody, reaching nobody

The more prospects you contact, the more sales opportunities you create, right? Peter started out by enthusiastically – but randomly – cold calling and emailing the long list of prospects provided by his new company. But after weeks of calls and emails, his prospecting outreach didn’t deliver results. Decision makers and executives seldom have time for strangers pitching them, so Peter realized he needed to change his tactics.

He began to clearly define his market by asking himself: What companies were best suited to his company’s solutions? Who were their typical decision makers?  Where are they located and would his company be able to service them. By doing this kind of research, Peter narrowed down his list, and set about targeting prospects with good potential.

More importantly, Peter also altered his approach by assuming the role of a business partner rather than a salesperson. He added a personal touch to his prospecting that positioned him as a provider of co-created solutions rather than just a pushy seller of products. 

2. More about them than you

With the assumption that he knew his prospective customers’ requirements, Peter’s communication was all about his company’s products and services. This one-sided focus left him ill-prepared for their questions and concerns. Peter realized that he had to gain more insight into what made their businesses tick.

He studied prospects’ websites, followed their press releases, as well as news from their industries etc. Peter also interviewed experts at his own company about market conditions and industry issues, and thought about all the possible questions his prospects may ask.

By replacing his assumptions with insights, Peter was able to focus on prospects’ concerns, challenges and strategies, demonstrating his understanding of their market sector and business. This in turn led to opportunities to discuss how his company’s products and services could support their objectives.

3. To wait or to give up?

Sometimes Peter just gave up after one call, often thinking that clients would call him when they needed assistance. Or he became pushy if his “star” prospects took too long to respond. Regardless to say, his calls and emails weren’t being returned.

Peter had to learn that being successful in sales takes time and consistent effort – and the foundation for success is good rapport and strong relationships. Also, a friendly, supportive tone will take you a long way. He began to keep in touch with his contacts, sharing interesting and relevant articles with them and inviting them to company events. By learning more about them (and sometimes about their families and hobbies), Peter started speaking their language, building his relationships with every interaction.

4. Using LinkedIn effectively

One of the ways Peter tried to expand his network was through LinkedIn. He knew that this online platform was a useful tool for building connections. However, Peter initially opted to pursue the bulldozing approach and while his list of connections grew, his sales pipeline didn’t.

In response, he began choosing his connections wisely. His first step was to ask for introductions via people who really mattered to those he wanted to connect with. He then followed up connections with tailor-made emails and eventually set up meetings. In avoiding all his other mistakes, he was able to develop positive and promising relationships.

5. Don’t miss out

Peter was disappointed when he saw his customers also partner with competitor suppliers. Looking closely at these partnerships, he realised that he had missed key business opportunities during conversations.

So, Peter worked on being more attentive and curious, especially when customers mentioned new projects and initiatives. This helped him to discover possibilities for their mutual benefit – whether it was through products or services, or connections with distributors, marketing experts and international affiliates.


As Peter discovered, assessing what works and what doesn’t and then making necessary changes can turn mistakes into opportunities. Once you have clients on board, use them as active referrals that lead you to finding and accessing new clients more easily. Staying in touch with your “fan” client base will also help you to keep other doors opening  ̶  and the ball of successful sales should go on rolling for you.


Extra tips
• Make prospecting part of your schedule to ensure the sales pipeline doesn’t run dry.
• Set goals for all your customer interactions etc. how many calls/mails will you send out this week; what is
   the aim of each interaction?
• Write short, powerful emails and remember that long attachments are often easily ignored.
• Keep good notes every time you talk to a client. It will help you initiate follow-ups.
• Don’t forget about traditional networking platforms – referrals from existing customers, industry events,
   visitors to your company’s website who have left contact details, and purchased lists of key contacts in
   your industry.
• Never underestimate the support you may receive from your contact’s assistant. Be friendly and interested
   and get them on your side.