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Dealing with customer complaints

All businesses get complaints from customers. If you handle them well, they can be a valuable learning tool and can actually increase your customer numbers.

Resolving a complaint can turn an upset customer into a loyal one who will promote your business to their friends. When a customer has a problem and you fix it, they will generally be more satisfied than if they never had a problem in the first place.

Complaints can also be a useful way of finding out how you can improve your business and services.

Research shows that around 96% of customers don't complain when they have a problem - they just don't come back. Since only 4% of unhappy customers complain, you could make the mistake of assuming that nothing is wrong with your business. Complaints are your most effective feedback.

Consider increasing your customer feedback by:

  • providing an easy way for them to give you suggestions
  • surveying your customers
  • displaying your complaint handling policy so that customers know their complaints are welcome.

The easiest way to track problems in your business is to record all complaints. Ask your staff to log complaints in one place - a dedicated book, for example. You will soon start to see if patterns emerge.

If you don't handle customer complaints effectively it can cost your business money and reputation.

Usually customers will resort to the law only after they have tried to resolve their complaint by speaking to staff. If you don't deal with complaints quickly you can end up paying substantial compensation that could have been avoided.


Michelle, an Indigenous teacher, was not served in a supermarket. When she complained, the shop assistant said, "I couldn't see her because of the colour of her skin." Michelle was distressed and followed up later with the manager, but she did not feel the matter was properly dealt with. After lodging a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Commission, the store investigated the matter. Michelle was given letters of apology and paid $1500 in compensation. The store agreed to give discrimination training to all staff.

Having a complaint handling policy and a procedure will ensure that all customers and their complaints are handled in the same way.

Our shops and services toolkit gives you more information about how to create a complaint handling policy and a procedure to help you deal with complaints.

If someone makes a complaint about you to the Commission, go to complaints lodged with the Equal Opportunity Commission.

Related information

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