Complaint handling

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If you want to keep your customers coming back, it pays to have sound complaint-handling procedures and processes. This also helps encourage positive feedback through word-of-mouth, online forums and social networks.

Complaint handling may seem less important than investing in your business in other ways. However, a dedicated customer service and complaints-handling team (at least one person, depending on the size of the business) is essential to ensure issues are dealt with before they become a significant problem.

Have a system to handle complaints

The benefits to your business include:

  • improved product quality and service delivery
  • fewer mistakes and less time spent fixing them
  • better understanding of customers' needs
  • increased customer loyalty and word-of-mouth referrals
  • improved business reputation.

Have dedicated complaint-handling staff, whose job it is to ensure:

  • adequate information is available to customers about how the business addresses problems when they arise, especially at the point of sale
  • frontline staff receive adequate training and are aware of:
    • the complaint-handling policy and process
    • their authority to settle complaints
    • when and to whom they need to refer complaints
  • there is a specific process to handle more difficult and complex cases
  • enquiries and complaints are reviewed regularly to identify ongoing issues or trends. Customers can provide important feedback on your business
  • social media chatter about your business is regularly monitored and responded to. Engaging online with customers in a positive and responsive manner can maintain or enhance your business reputation.
  • reports are made to senior management about complaints.

Some businesses have different complaint-handling areas to deal with specialised complaints - for example warranty claims and contractual disputes.

Make the complaints process easy for your customers

Explaining the complaint-handling process and expected timeframes to customers can help avoid intervention by third parties, such as Consumer Affairs Victoria and the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

General contact details and a complaint-handling process should be easy for your customers to access. Information about how they can lodge a query or complaint should be available online, at the point of sale, and over the phone.


Business websites should contain clear contact details, including separate email addresses for general queries and customer complaints or warranty claims. For complaints and warranty claims, provide instructions on the information that should be included in the email, such as:

  • the customer's personal details, including their contact details
  • the date of sale and cost of the product or service
  • details of the product or service, such as the manufacturer or product codes
  • a brief summary of the dispute and the outcome sought
  • what documents may be attached, such as proof of purchase or photographs of the faulty product.

The above information is useful when recording a complaint.

Point of sale

Make details of policies and procedures, including complaint-handling processes, available at the point of sale. Increasing your customers' awareness of these processes saves time when a dispute arises.

When possible, ensure all your staff are trained in handling complaints, recording details of the complaint, and any escalation procedures.


Have a number for complaints or problems that arise after sale.

When dealing with a complaint in person or over the phone:

  • identify yourself to the customer
  • be professional, polite and courteous
  • listen carefully to the complaint
  • do not attempt to lay blame or be defensive - politely provide the customer with your perspective
  • make a record of the complaint and confirm the details with the customer
  • explain the courses of action available to address their complaint
  • check if the customer is satisfied with the proposed action and if not, discuss alternatives such as an internal review process or involving a third party to resolve the dispute.

When dealing with a written complaint:

  • use the same strategies as with verbal complaints (above)
  • respond promptly (ideally within 48 hours) to inform the customer you are processing their complaint
  • send a written response to the customer, even if you have already phoned them.

Have timelines for each step in the complaint-handling process

Having timelines for each action:

  • ensures your staff are accountable for their role in the complaint-handling process
  • ensures your customers understand what they can expect from your business if they raise a complaint
  • reduces uncertainty or confusion between you and your customers.

Consider using automated email responses to inform customers about the time in which they will hear from your business.

Use a database

A complaint-handling database ensures you can identify emerging business trends and issues - and mitigate any risks before they escalate.

Regularly review complaints

Follow up with customers who have complained, to:

  • check if they are satisfied
  • ask for feedback about your complaint-handling system

Review complaints monthly or quarterly, to establish any trends, or obvious things you can change or improve.

Use records to check how well, and quickly, your staff handle complaints.

More information

The Australian and International Standard (AS/ISO 10002-2006) provides guidance for designing and implementing an efficient complaint-handling process. It reflects the needs of both businesses and customers.