A free resource for small business complaint handling.

Compared to a big business or organisation, customer complaints are perhaps even more important for small businesses because each customer represents a larger portion of your entire customer base. That’s why SOCAP partnered with Monash University to produce this Small Business Complaints Toolkit.

Whether you’re a mum and dad retailer, small healthcare practice, pet groomer or professional service provider – having a good complaints process will help keep your customers satisfied, improve your product/service, avoid costly complaint escalations, and ultimately strengthen your brand and bottom line.

Below you’ll find our Top 10 recommendations from the toolkit, or you can download or print the entire toolkit as a PDF, or download free template letters. We strongly encourage all small business owners to read the toolkit and think through how they currently handle complaints and what can be done to improve the process.

Top 10 recommendations for small business complaint handling:
1. Make it clear to customers how they can register a complaint.  It’s better they do it directly with you rather than on social media, word-of-mouth… or bottle it up and never give feedback at all!
2. Treat complaints as a gift – they’re an opportunity to learn how customers are not being satisfied so you can ultimately improve your offering.  This will improve your profits in the long run.
3. The top four expectations of customers when making a complaint: it will be handled quickly, taken seriously, replied to with empathy, and to receive an apology.
4. Empower all staff to handle complaints by ensuring they understand your complaint policies and procedures.  
5. Always tell the customer when you’ve received their complaint.   In the response email/letter, make sure the language is clear and has a polite tone, and includes all the customer’s issues, what you have done so far, any ongoing action / next steps, and a timeframe for when they can expect to hear from you again.
6. When responding to complaints on social media, respond within 24 hours, always keep a positive tone and have clear rules of engagement that any staff who handles social media understands.
7. When evaluating a complaint, consider the following: How serious/urgent is it?  Who is best to respond to the complaint?  Are there multiple complaint elements that need different responses?  Is the customer more vulnerable than others? Do you have obligations under Australian Consumer Law or your own policies / guarantees?  
8. Communication is key!  If progress on a complaint is delayed, tell the complainant asap.
9. Have a process of recording complaints so they can be tracked, measured and learned from over time.  Include the nature of the complaint, the actions taken, and the outcome.
10. Don’t be afraid to talk about the improvements you’ve made – it shows customers you’ve listened to them and are better than ever.

This project was made possible through the Professional Standards Councils’ Research Grant.