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Dealing with Complaints

March 29, 2013 by Dr. Jon Warner in Complaint Handling

Dealing with Complaints

It is easy to take the view that some complaints are simply trivial or even false (especially when made by an active or chronic complainer). This can lead to very negative feelings towards the customer and an unwillingness to be helpful in some cases. Successful complaint handlers however do not make these kind of differentiating judgments and instead try to adopt a resolution-focused mind-set from the outset. One way in which to quickly do this is to engage in “brainstorming” with the customer.

Brainstorming, in this instance, means not just generating new ideas but working with the customer to clarify exactly what needs to be put right in order for him or her to be satisfied, by using both questions and suggestions to elicit the information needed. In this way, the complaint handler encourages the complainant to be present and future focused (rather than to dwell on the disappointments of the immediate past).

Dealing with Complaints Diagram

When engaging in customer brainstorming, it is useful for a compliant handler to know that research suggests that there are five stages that typically occur in transforming a complainant’s outlook. Let’s look briefly at each of these 5 stages:


This stage is clearly not a positive one and needs to be a short-lived as possible for both parties. However, for the complaint handler it is a time when he or she should be carefully listening or even taking notes on the problem.

Openness to discussion

This stage may still not be very positive but at least the customer will have moved on from a mainly one-sided “barrage” and will hopefully now allow some questions to be asked and clarification to occur.


This stage is usually neither positive nor negative but at least both parties will allow issues and points to be aired and suggestions as to the way forward to be tentatively put.

Collaborative solution debate

This stage is reasonably positive and often involves both joint brainstorming activity and negotiation to occur (which we will be looking at as the final step in our model on the next slide).

Satisfaction/full recovery

This stage obviously is very positive (as long as it is fully reached of course) as the customer has hopefully completely transitioned form being dissatisfied to happy with the service he or she has experienced.

It is important to remember that each of these steps is a discrete stage in thinking or perception and customer progression needs to be tracked and managed carefully. This can be done in just a few seconds in skillful hands but sometimes it may take much longer with several conversations having to take place.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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