Think before pressing “send” in reply to a customer complaint

Vulnerable people are frequently left without a resolution to a complaint. They can find it difficult to know how to complain, what route to take, what language to use, and if they don’t get a satisfactory response they will give up more quickly.

This can be a huge problem for companies, whether they realise it or not. We all know that it can cost at least 5 times more to gain a new customer than to retain an existing one. However, how your teams or you handle a complaint, particularly with vulnerable customers, could have unintended consequences. What if, unbeknown to you, the customer has just had a bereavement, has mental health issues, is disabled or is elderly or is vulnerable in a host of other ways? The impact could be more than just you losing a customer.

man sitting on sofa head in closed hands thinking

In the current climate anyone could become vulnerable. Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs or are freelancers currently unable to work. Many thousands have developed mental health issues or have suffered a bereavement. This can make them vulnerable.


A year ago if you handled a complaint badly it may have just frustrated someone who was able to keep going until it was resolved. For example, if you sent someone from pillar to post (a top common frustration for customers) they may just have got cross and kept going until the matter was resolved. Now, imagine if that person has depression and anxiety difficulties. It takes one of your complaints to a whole new level, doesn’t it? That person is not in a good place and is having to spend more time on something that affects them negatively could have very serious consequences.

Now it is more likely than ever that you may be writing to someone who is vulnerable. 1 in 4 people is thought to have a mental health problem in their lifetime, so think about how this has increased since the pandemic. Add that to the increased number of people who are bereaved and/or suffering with their physical health on top of those already vulnerable.

Write a list of the ways in which someone could be vulnerable.

hand writing in notepad in front of laptopWhen you receive a letter/email, respond as normal. Randomly point to a vulnerability on the list. Now, read through your response and ask yourself some questions about how the recipient may be impacted by each paragraph.


With the next letter/email received, stop and think before you reply. Imagine that person is vulnerable, and choose the way in which they are.  Then write and look through again and ask yourself (or colleagues) how the recipient may be impacted by every paragraph.

Trying out a mixture of these methods – and encouraging your teams to do this alongside other activities – will change how you think and respond to complaints over time.

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Join the Facebook Group Customer Service: Compassion, Care and  Integrity  A private group where you can give and get support, advice and share good practice on how to improve complaint handling.

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Business Christmas Companies customer service Complaining about customer service Topical

Tesco fails to deliver – on delivery slots!

Tesco fails to plan for Christmas

Tesco products in a basket

For many years now Tesco like other supermarkets has offered home delivery of your shopping. You can book hourly slots or flexible slots from 6.00am to 11.00pm every day. Tesco also offers a Delivery Saver options where customers can pay for a subscription-based delivery service to save money on the cost of deliveries.

Yesterday (12 November 2020) Tesco customers who are Delivery Savers received notification that slots for Christmas would open two weeks earlier than normal, at 7.00am the following day.

As you would expect, in a repeat of what we saw at the beginning of the March 2020 lockdown, people tried to get slots by staying up to midnight to book a slot as soon as it became available. However, customers queued online for well over an hour and in some cases more than two hours.

Tesco and the Twitter feed complaints

The Tesco Twitter feed was plastered with complaints about the site:

Many people complained that friends and relatives who had been in the queue for less time than them but that they were still waiting.

For many of those who were able to finally get a slot they then couldn’t checkout!


Others got through and found their basket had been emptied and had to start all over again.

At 9.45am a Tesco Spokesperson said:

“Demand for online slots over the festive period is high, and we have more slots this Christmas than ever before. We are experiencing high volumes of traffic to our website and Groceries app and are temporarily limiting the number of customers using it. We’re sorry for any inconvenience caused and would like to reassure customers that there are still slots available for both home delivery and Click & Collect over the Christmas period.”

However, this was not strictly true, as slots were not available from 8.45am:

And just a few hours after opening there were still no slots available. This was the situation at 10.00am:

showing all slots from 21/12/20 booked

Tesco Twitter team wrongly advising customers about delivery slots

Despite this, the Tesco Twitter team was still advising people that slots were available. It admitted that there were technical problems causing some of the issues.

Others offered ways round:

and using more than one device or having lots of tabs open can help too.

Consumers give Tesco ideas on how to solve delivery slot issue

Numerous people told the team that the system was wrong and suggested solutions, such as using previous information from customers:

Other ideas included: giving priority to people who had been on the delivery scheme for longer than others, especially as some join the scheme purely for Christmas; informing people of where they are in a position in the queue; releasing some slots at different times of the day, especially as the planned 7.00am time left many parents unable to both watch the site and get children ready for school.

Tesco and the delivery problem

During lockdown many people tried to book a delivery slot and many of these people would not even have been Delivery Saver customers. So, in theory, today should have seen fewer customers trying to book a slot!  But it was chaotic and far worse than through lockdown, when people were left without delivery slots. This time they had to wait for two hours to be told they had missed a slot or get beaten by someone who had waited less time than them!

Tesco has increased the number of its delivery slots from 600,000 to 1.5million a week – which is more than double what was available at the start of the coronavirus lockdown but it’s not clear how many more, if any since the end of lockdown when we know slots increased hugely. In may 2020 it was 1.2 million.

Businesses need to be much better at planning these things. Christmas isn’t like COVID, it can be predicted! Tesco needs to learn lessons from previous years and indeed from throughout this year, when reliable home delivery has become so important.

The Complaining Cow – free support for businesses

If you want to do more to improve your customer service and increase sales…

Join the Facebook Group Customer Service: Compassion, Care and  Integrity  A private group where you can give and get support, advice and share good practice on how to improve complaint handling.

Free download Customer Service: 5 ways to get rave reviews & referrals a few tweaks to your customer service can help you reduce the risk to your company’s reputation, finances and impact on customers and increase sales.

Case study: Tesco and a consumer champion