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When did you last complain? How do you feel when someone complains about you or your business? Under the ADR Directive, even Basil Fawlty would have to sign post to a certified ADR Provider. What can you do to avoid getting that far?

We all know how we should respond to a complaint. We all know the principles and procedures of handling complaints, but …

It’s hard to think straight when you have an angry person in front of you. When we feel threatened, the flight or fright response kicks in and we say or do the wrong thing.

Here’s how thinking S A L A D can help you handle complaints so well that they turn into compliments.

Switch off your flight or fright response

This is very hard to do if you are telling yourself that the person complaining is out to get you, get a free meal or that they are just a nasty person. So what do you do? Take a couple of deep breaths, and tell yourself

What I really want is a customer who is happy and will recommend me.

This person is giving me a look at how I or my staff have gone wrong and giving me the chance to put it right.

This is a good chance to practice my complaint handling skills.

What I could lose if I handle this badly?

If you keep this in mind before you face a complaint and actively ask for feedback, it gets easier to be calm every time.

Apologise that the person is upset and has to complain and thank them for telling you. (you need to mean this, or it will sound insincere and potentially make things worse). You aren’t saying they are right and you are wrong, you are sorry the situation has occurred and you are thankful that they have told you about it.


Ask them to tell you more and listen to what the problem is. Don’t trivialise it, don’t make excuses, or try and give reasons or interrupt with a solution; just listen. What people want when they complain is to be heard and understood. As Maya Angelou said “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will always remember how you made them feel.”

Ask for their solution

It’s very tempting to give the customer a gift, or vouchers, and in many cases, done properly, it is good service.

If it is done INSTEAD of solving the problem, not only will the customer feel that you are trying to buy them off, you will get more complaints about the same thing because it hasn’t been fixed. It may encourage more people to complain to get the free gift. Perhaps the customer wants an explanation, perhaps they just want to make sure no one else goes through what they have done, or perhaps they want an apology.

Do what you can

Thank them again for bringing things to your attention and tell them what you will do to correct any mistakes you might have made. Sometimes there is nothing you can do to put it right. Be honest and tell people that. If you don’t have the authority or resources to put it right, do what you can to ease the situation.

A National Complaints Culture Survey by the Institute of Customer Service found that nearly all customers would recommend a company to their friends if a complaint had been resolved efficiently.

Four out of five customers would spread the word if a complaint had been handled badly.
With so much at stake, it’s worth taking the time to shift your mind set and be proactive instead of defensive or dismissive. Think SALAD— most of all LISTEN otherwise it’s just SAAD.

At ProMediate, we are certified to deal with customer complaints under the ADR Directive, if the customer still isn’t happy. We can help you control your flight or fight instinct, train staff and mediate when things have gone wrong.

Nancy Radford


Disclaimer: The information and any commentary on the law contained in this article is for information purposes only. No responsibility for the accuracy and correctness of the information and commentary or for any consequences of relying on it, is assumed by the author. The information and commentary does not, and is not intended to amount to legal advice to any person on a specific case or matter. The article was written on the date shown and may not represent the law as it stands subsequently. For the avoidance of doubt, the views in this article are personal to the author and not attributable to any other individual or organisation.