How to handle negative feedback and complaints

How do you handle negative customer feedback? How do you deal with complaints? These are the top questions people ask on business forums and social media platforms, like Quora, Reddit, and LinkedIn.

There is no business that hasn't faced negative feedback or customers complaining about the service, products or terms.

What separates good businesses from others is the way they handle negative feedback. The way they transform a defect into effect and often build successful marketing campaigns on top of it.

In this article we will look into how to deal with negative feedback and help you to build your feedback communication handbook.

Types of customer feedback

Before we dive into negative feedback, let's investigate what types of feedback you receive.

There are three major types of feedback - positive, neutral, and negative. Each requires a different approach and deserves a spot in your handbook.

With positive feedback, you receive the information about what your customers love about your product or website. You can use that to power up your marketing message, discover product advocates, build case studies, and write testimonials.

The neutral feedback helps you discover quick wins and features that can boost your growth. Neutral feedback is completely fine - not everyone will praise your product or service. It doesn't mean that people are not satisfied with it. In fact, running business for the masses will usually result in receiving neutral feedback. These people may not become your advocates but represent the majority of your customer base.

Last but not least is negative feedback. Negative feedback is the result of issues your customers are facing or your product not meeting their expectations. It may also signal changes in the market or competition.

How to handle negative customer feedback

Getting negative feedback is not the end of your business. Most businesses receive negative feedback every day. Remember that you won't be able to please everyone. But what you can do is learn how to handle negative feedback and move forward.

There are certain things you should and should not do when handling negative feedback:

  • Keep calm
  • Be reactive and responsive
  • Put yourself in customers' shoes
  • Do not argue
  • Follow up
  • Have a guidebook
  • Name deadlines
  • Never overpromise
  • Work on your soft skills
  • Deliver more than expected
  • Stick to the communication channel
  • Create personal connection
  • Have a courage to say “no”
  • Learn and make changes

Keep calm

Negative feedback may feel like a personal attack and sometimes get you off balance. Remember, that in 99.9% it is not - your customers may feel anxious or angry because of facing difficulties. Plus, their job is not to sing appraisals about your business.

The first thing to do is sit down and give yourself time for emotions to go away. Always approach negativity with a clear mind and stay professional at all times. Follow your guidelines and tone of voice you have chosen for your brand.

Be reactive and responsive

Ignoring negative feedback is the worst kind of action you can take.

No matter how bad the comment or review is, you, as a business, are expected to react. Almost 82% of all customers who leave feedback expect businesses to answer.

The sooner you do that - the better.

Being reactive will have a positive effect and show that you care about their feedback. Even if there is more to cover, let them know that you are there and an explicit answer is on the way.

Put yourself in customers' shoes

Your customers may have a completely different approach to how to use your product or navigate your website.

The fact that you had a completely different idea in mind doesn't mean they are being wrong. It is more likely that your product design stage failed to align with your customers.

Stop being a business owner for a minute and think as a customer. What did you want to achieve? How did the product make you feel? Answers to these and similar questions will help you analyze the feedback and craft the response.

Do not argue

The good old “customer is always right” may not be applicable to all situations but feedback is not one of them.

There is no point in telling your customers how wrong they are. In most cases it will end up the same way as telling your wife to calm down during the argument. Your goal is to reduce frustration - not to take it to the next level.

Even if your customers failed and that resulted in negative feedback. Admit - this is your fault.
Of course, you should gently guide your customers towards the correct solution or find another way out.

The key to success is leading - not teaching.

Follow up

Close and forget should not be part of your journey.

No matter the outcome, make sure to get back to your customers in a while to check on them. Show that you care about their success to build closer relationships.

Some businesses go even further and connect with churned customers. There are cases when they manage to win them back with less investment compared to acquiring new ones.

Following up will also help you to receive updates on their previous feedback. With that data available, you can compare their satisfaction score and see how (and if) your solution worked.

Have a guidebook

Your company should have a guidebook in place on how to handle every type of feedback.

Make sure to develop scenarios with clear paths and canned responses to speed things up. A good guidebook will feature every step your customer care team should take when addressing feedback. Include tone of voice and initial response time.

Measure your results and adjust your guidebook accordingly. Your handbook should be an evergreen document that reflects your processes and abilities.

Name deadlines

Addressing negative feedback is often about resolving issues. Being precise about delivery and delivering within deadline plays a significant role.

Every time you promise something to your customers, make sure to name the exact time or date. Even such small things like research time can be provided so your customers know when to expect a more detailed answer.

Being precise adds credibility to your business. It is about knowing that your problem is being addressed.

Never overpromise

Many businesses can not handle the stress of negative feedback. To resolve things by all costs they tend to overpromise.

The result is making clients happy in the short term and simply postponing disaster. As a business, you are expected to be professional and deliver what you promised. If you are not sure if you can resolve certain issues or introduce new features that were requested - don't promise.

Even worse, feedback is often publicly available and being followed by others. Promising and not delivering will be easily spotted by others. Your reputation will be questioned and you will have more problems to deal with.

Work on your soft skills

Handling negativity requires a certain level of soft skills.

It is much harder to approach a person who is angry or disappointed. Knowing how to deal with those types of people will increase your chances to resolve conflicts.

Make sure to have learning processes in place for you and your customer care team to improve their soft skills on a regular basis.

Deliver more than expected

Everyone loves when their expectations are being exceeded.

If your customers expect you to resolve their issue, anything on top is extra. Such extra is needed to lower the impact of negative emotions and turn the ship around.

As for the scope - it shouldn't necessarily be something big. There are plenty of small rewards or gifts your company can have in place.

It is also important to make sure that any extra delivery or gift is a part of your handbook.

Stick to the communication channel

Unless impossible for security reasons, avoid changing communication channels that your customers prefer.

If you customers choose Facebook to provide you with feedback - use it to communicate back. Got feedback as a comment in your blog post? Simply reply in the comments section.

Suggesting your customers to change communication channels is frustrating. If you think that the communication channel is not correct, deliver the message to the proper department yourself. Never ask your customers to do extra work. It won't help you to lower their frustration.

Create personal connection

We love to know that there is a real person on the other end of our conversation.

It is getting harder and harder to achieve that with automations and artificial intelligence in place. Still, as you reply to your customers, make sure to be personal.

A simple thing like introducing yourself and stating your position will be beneficial. Encourage customers to contact you directly whenever they require further assistance. Don't be afraid to share your personal email - you can always automate that process.

Have a courage to say “no”

There are cases when you simply need to say “no”. The reasons for that can be different - lack of resources, lack of time, different direction.

You will never be able to satisfy all of your customers. The sooner you admit it - the better. It is often that you need to refuse doing something to ensure you are actually moving forward and progressing.

What is important is to keep calm and respectful. Explain to your customers why you are not able to provide them with certain features or assistance.

It could also be the case that you have already spent too much time dealing with a certain problem. Instead of spending more resources, consider issuing full or partial refunds to close the question and avoid losing more resources.

Learn and make changes

Dealing with negative feedback is constant learning and improvements. As you receive feedback or apply scenarios from your handbook, you will learn new things. Reflect on your actions and analyze results.

Setting up a proper process of handling negative feedback will require multiple iterations. You will need to experiment and often revert changes.

Do you have a lot of negative feedback?

While this is not the question about how to handle it, it is something you need to address in the first place.

A healthy proportion of positive to negative feedback is considered between 5:1 and 7:1. That means that for every negative feedback you receive, you should have 5 to 7 positive feedback.

If you are not up to that level, drop everything and act now. Talk to your customers and discover what your product or website is missing to turn the ship around.


Handling negative feedback may be exhausting and depressing. Yet, it is also your chance to get better as a business and individual who applies their soft skills.

Having a handbook in place for you and your team can help address negative feedback and complaints in a professional manner. While there is room for experimenting, excellent companies know exactly what to do with negative feedback.

They mitigate, learn, improve, and turn negativity into wins.

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