Think before pressing “send” in reply to customer complaints

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.

The Complaining Cow – free support for businesses

It takes 5 times as much to gain a new customer to retain one. So work on turning your customers into superfans who do much of the heavy lifting for you!

Join the Facebook Group Increase Sales through 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 customer service.

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To see how The Complaining Cow can help you improve your customer service and increase sales by turning customers into suprfans who do the heavy lifting of marketing for you. Reduce risk to reputation, finances and impact on vulnerable customers. See Services.

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By Helen Dewdney, The Complaining Cow

Consultant | Author | Speaker | Blogger | Presenter | Journalist
Helping to make, prevent and deal with complaints

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