The Ultimate Cheat Sheet On How to Write the Best Complaint Response Emails

Man with afro hairstyle working at his desk

An apology, empathy, and an explanation of why the problem happened are the keys to writing complaint response letters that restore customer confidence.  

One of the things I do in my practice is write the templates for complaint response letters for some of world’s most renowned brands. My work usually starts by me throwing out all robotic and boring letters that are in use.

Then, I custom create response letters that reflect the brand’s voice. Once I get the brand voice down, my complaint response letters follow 5 steps.

The 5 steps ensure that the complaint response letter restores customer confidence and regains goodwill. Here are my 5 steps with great examples from great companies that know how to regain customer goodwill after the worst has happened.

1. Apologize

Making an apology to customers after things go wrong is positively related to satisfaction with the recovery. When a service employee apologizes to a customer, she conveys politeness, courtesy, concern, effort, and empathy.

Take a look at this outright apology from JetBlue Airlines after a major service mishap. (See the first sentence of JetBlue’s response)

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Customer Recovery Strategy: Predetermine solutions to all top problems


When I partner with a company that wants to build loyal relationships with their customers, I absolutely insist that they predetermine recovery strategies for top complaints. This single exercise positions frontline professionals to quickly determine recovery strategies that protect a company’s best customers from defection and strengthen loyalty after a service mishap.

Taken straight from our consulting playbook, here are 5 things I ask my clients to consider when generating solutions for all top problems:


Sometimes the best resolution for the customer is for the company to replace the product. Clearly stating when this is most appropriate will help you offer quick and consistent resolutions.

Replacement “plus”

What I mean here is “make it a double for their trouble.” Let’s say you buy a new vacuum cleaner, get it home put it together, turn it on and it doesn’t work. You gather up the vacuum cleaner, the manual and your receipt, go back to Big Jakes and wait in line for 13 minutes to return it. When Little Jake exchanges it for a new vacuum cleaner, are you satisfied? Sure, you’re happy that the exchange was made, but you were inconvenienced big time. You had to take time out of your busy schedule to fight traffic, find a parking space and wait in line. And now you have to put another vacuum cleaner together. A good recovery would add something to the exchange to account for the “hassle factor”. Little Jake could say, “Ms. Smith, I’m going to give you a free package of vacuum cleaner bags as a concrete apology for the trouble you’ve experienced.”

Determine situations when you want to offer Replacement “plus.” 


There will be times when it’s more appropriate, even advisable, to return the customer’s money instead of replacing the product. Can you decide now when it will be appropriate to refund the money? Or, do you want your employees to make this call?

No compensation

There will be times when no compensation is warranted. Determining this ahead of time positions staff to respond with greater confidence and keeps them from giving the store away. 


This might include a follow-up call or note to the customer.

Proactively generating best-fit solutions for your top problems positions frontline staff to respond to complaints with confidence and consistency and helps ensure decisions are made that balance both the interests of the customer and the company. If you’d like to learn more about positioning your employees to make recovery decisions that protect both loyalty and profits, consider partnering with me for consulting, training or an unforgettable keynote. Learn more at

Myra Golden helps companies completely restore customer confidence in their brands after service failures. Considered one of the leading experts in customer recovery, she has helped hundreds of organizations rethink and redesign their complaint response processes so they are positioned to retain more customers, improve customer satisfaction, and increase profits. Myra has designed customer recovery programs for such companies as Verizon Business, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, National Car Rental, Michelin Tires and Frito Lay. She is co-author of Beyond WOW! The Service Leadership Approach to Exceptional Customer Service.


My Client Gave Me 3 Levels of WOW Customer Service!


Last Friday I had the great pleasure of delivering 2 half day workshops to a wonderful new client, Silverstein Properties. Silverstein Properties is a full-service real estate development, investment and management firm based in New York. I fell in love with this client from our first conference call. My main contact, Andrew, has a real spirit of service. He arranged interviews for me with key managers so that I could truly get to know the Silverstein culture, goals and challenges. He meticulously worked behind the scenes on so many levels to help me be great.

During my stay in New York City, Silverstein gave me super impressive accommodations in a corporate apartment. The apartment deco was just amazing and it felt like home away from home. I stayed at the corporate apartment the night before my workshops. During a break during the morning workshop, the head of Corporate Housing, Katrina, asked me how my stay had been. I told her how much I loved the apartment layout, interior design, amenities, concierge and location. Katrina asked a few follow-up questions to ensure that my expectations had been met and exceeded. There was one little problem I experienced. I couldn’t get wifi. I was hesitant to tell Katrina, because everything else was so amazing and I didn’t want to “complain” about this one little thing.

The first WOW. Katrina could tell I had something to share.

Katrina picked up on my body language or hesitation and probed politely, until finally, I told her about the wifi issue. She apologized genuinely and assured me she’d have the wifi taken care of before I got back to my apartment. Her response made me fee good about giving her the feedback.

The second WOW. My problem was fixed at lightening speed.

I finished the first workshop, enjoyed lunch with the participants and setup for the second workshop. Right at at the start of the second workshop, a lady, Sarah, walked in, introduced herself and told me that she had just left my apartment and fixed the wifi. Apparently a cable had been unplugged from the modem. My reaction was “WOW!” Talk about responsive!

The third WOW. Wine and Chocolate.

Then, get this, I get back to my corporate apartment and a bottle of wine and a basket of goodies await me, along with a note from the corporate apartment staff.  If Silverstein treats its tenants this way, and I’m sure they do, tenants will never want to leave their properties!

Your takeaway. 

How might you deliver a Beyond WOW recovery to a customer who has experienced a problem? Solving the problem is great, but can you go one better? How about going for the Beyond WOW effect like Silverstein. I know you can. Now, go for it!

Beyond WOW Book

The explosive ideas in this book will help you go beyond the WOW experience to build, repair, and grow customer relationships. 

by Myra Golden and Dr. Jeffrey Magee

“From the first page I was taken in!”

“Beyond WOW is a powerful tool for those of us who work with customers on a day-to-day basis.

“I refer to your book when I need to re-motivate myself.”


  • Completely restore customer confidence and regain goodwill after any service failure

  • Learn how to launch relationship marketing campaigns to strengthen loyalty with your current customers

  • Get your customers back from the competition with our powerful win back strategies

  • Discover why you need to forget customer satisfaction and strive for customer loyalty

  • Deploy more than 50 growth and retention tactics today

  • How to create a customer recovery plan

  • Converting ballistic customers into advocates

  • Customer winback strategies – the step-by-step process


Take a look inside:

View table of contents

Look at back cover

Read a sample chapter

Get your copy of Beyond WOW for $29.95. Buy now.

Or get Beyond WOW instantly in eBook format for just $20!


Verbal Aikido: A strategy for handling difficult customers

In my live Stop Screaming at Me seminars, I demonstrate the martial art Aikido and offer it as a strategy for diffusing anger. I began teaching this unconventional approach to managing conflict after having my breath taken away as I watched Steven Segal effortlessly defeat his opponents without violence or aggression in half a dozen of his movies. Aikido is a nonviolent martial art that never meets force with force and can be applied to conflict situations with demanding, irate or unreasonable customers. (I’ve personally applied Aikido to situations with customers, employees and co-workers.) Using the principles of Aikido, you too can diffuse anger and demonstrate amazing control over all aspects of verbal attacks.

People using “verbal aikido” can respond to heated situations directly and assertively without being pulled into the drama of the battle and they can lay the foundation for win-win resolutions that maintain the customer’s loyalty – even with angry customers. Here are 6 Aikido principles that will help you more effectively respond to anger.

1. An Aikidoist strategically calms down the attack. This is done by both the use of relaxed body posture and open hands. Verbal attacks from irate customers also need the same calming strategy. In Aikido, the master will step aside rather than confront the attack. This takes the power and speed out of the attack and allows the master to stay centered and calm. When you respond to your customer with “Clearly, we’ve upset you and getting to the bottom of this is just as important to me as it is to you.” anger begins to dissipate. You’ve addressed the anger directly and non defensively and you haven’t been pulled into the drama of the attack.

2. Aikido never meets force with force. In fact, there are no direct attacks and very little striking or kicking. When dealing with angry customers it is natural to respond to an attack with an attack. If the customer yells, we escalate our voice. When the attack gets personal, we become defensive and less willing to work with the customer. While we may feel justified in launching our attack because we’ve been attacked, we must realize that a defensive (forceful) response only escalates the original problem. Let’s learn from the Aikido masters and not attack back defensively. Instead, we will respond carefully and strategically.

3. Aikido emphasizes quick, decisive movements that are designed to use the attacker’s force against him. This is done through evasive movements, body shifting, and leverage. Taking this to a verbal level, you’d take a customer’s intensity and sense of urgency and use that to your advantage with a reply like: “No question, we’ve messed up. Getting to the bottom of this is just as important to me as it is to you.” Instead of letting the customer’s intimidation tactics negatively impact you, you turn that energy back at the customer by pacing his actions.

4. Aikidoists blend with their opponent’s energy. In Aikido, this looks as if you move toward your opponent and then change places with them. In a verbal attack, blending with your customer is finding common ground with the customer. You can blend with your angry customer by listening with a sincere intent to understand their pain, frustration and needs and then responding with empathy. The knowledge you gain from listening to your customer becomes your force and positions you to redirect the energy in a productive direction. Once you’ve blended with the customer, that is, once you truly understand the customer’s situation, the attack can be neutralized and redirected.

5. Aikido students learn to turn with their opponent’s force and let that force go past them. When we respond to angry customers in this way, we’re able to keep our cool when customers get hot. We don’t get caught up in the emotion of anger. Instead, we allow the customer to express his feelings and we don’t take comments personally and we don’t allow our feelings (anger, rejection, offense) to control our responses.

6. An Aikido Master never seeks to kill his opposition. When we transfer this principle to customer service situations, we realize that our goal is to never hang up on a customer, blow a customer off, or “fire” a difficult customer. Our goal is to find more diplomatic ways to communicate and reach win win resolutions.

7. In Aikido, all opponents are considered partners. Think of your angry customer as your partner and let this mindset direct you to use interactive dialogue to work with your customer to solve the problem. Try to not resist or coerce your “partner.” Work with your partner, talk with your partner, and seek solutions that benefit the customer and the company.

Applying the principles of Aikido to difficult situations with unhappy customers allows you to maintain composure and control, and effectively diffuse anger. The next time you’re faced with a difficult customer, why not go Steven Segal…you’ll have fun and you’ll be amazed how effective you’ll be!

Myra Golden Seminars offers engaging, cutting-edge classroom and online customer service training based on the work of Myra Golden.

Resources: Myra Golden Customer Service Training

We are best known for our classroom training – and it is amazing! Our customer service training is led by the industry’s best trainers…experienced, engaging, and energetic. If you poke your head into a Myra Golden training session, you know this training is different. Participant involvement is astonishing. People are having fun and they are completely engaged. Most importantly, the participants are learning real-world strategies that will absolutely empower them to deliver exceptional customer service. Every one of our customer service training sessions is custom designed to meet our client’s objectives and every session delivers a measurable return on investment.

Customer Service Training – Classroom

Customer Service Training – Online (LMS)

Customer Service Training – Webinars

How to Lose a Customer (and your business) Over 8 Dimes

One of the top reasons customers state for leaving a company is a problem was mishandled.  Frontline employees need to be trained to respond to problems with a sense of urgency and to do everything possible to satisfy a customer.

Yesterday I had lunch with my sister and we experienced a little issue with a discount. The situation could have been easily handled in like 2 seconds. But the restaurant employee simply wasn’t equipped to handle exceptions. Watch this video and learn what NOT to do when it comes to customer problems.

Note: Two months after I recorded this video, the restaurant went out of business. They had a strong reputation in our community for delivering poor customer service. No doubt, customer service was a part of the reason they no longer exist. Customer service matters.

Are you a corporate trainer who is looking for customer service training to deliver to your team?

Myra Golden’s Trainer Facilitator Kits

Fully Customizable Facilitator Kits Using the Myra Golden Training Method


Training Kits Available for the Following Topics:

  • Telephone Skills
  • Call Control Skills
  • Complaint Handling
  • How to Handle Difficult Customers

All training kits include:

    • Reproducible comprehensive participant workbook that drives home key points and serves as a reference point long after the training is over.
    • High-impact PowerPoint slide deck that you can use as-is or customize with your logo and specific examples.
    • Detailed trainer’s notes to help you quickly get ready to train.
    • Certificate for free consultation with Myra Golden – Consult with Myra about the philosophy, objectives or delivery of this training program before you deliver it!
    • Delivered digitally so that you’ll have this entire training system at your fingertips in minutes!
    • How-to hints for delivering the very best training.

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Sorry Works! The Bottom-line Benefit of Apologizing to Customers

One of the easiest and quickest ways to diffuse anger, create rapport, and regain goodwill with unhappy customers is to apologize. Offering an apology to a customer who experiences a problem should be a natural response from customer service providers. Yet, recent research reveals the startling fact that 50 percent of customers who voice a complaint never receive an apology from the organization.

Not only does an apology provide “soft” benefits such as creating calm, shaving minutes off of talk time, reducing stress on the employee, etc., but it can also translate into significant and measurable savings in reduced lawsuits, settlement costs, and defense costs.

Doctors and hospitals are beginning to discover what savvy customer service professionals have always known: sorry works. A new program for doctors, nurses, and hospital administrators called Sorry Works encourages doctors and hospitals to apologize quickly when mishaps occur and to offer a fair settlement upfront to families and their attorneys. The Sorry Works program has resulted in a dramatic drop in lawsuits. The University of Michigan hospital recently implemented Sorry Works and reports that the number of pending cases has dropped and defense attorney fees decreased from $3 million to $1 million annually. Clearly, sorry does, indeed, work.

Does a $2 million dollar savings based solely on an apology sound too good to be true? Let me walk you through exactly why sorry truly does work… here are the facts:

 Anger—not greed—is what drives liability claims.

Doug Wojcieszak, spokesperson for Victims and Families United and author of “Sorry Works” says that anger, not greed, is what drives most medical malpractice lawsuits. Further, Doug says, “Anger is generated when doctors and hospitals “clam up” and refuse to talk with the family after a mistake happens. Anger over lack of answers is what drives families to call an attorney to initiate a lawsuit.”

 The same can be said for product liability claims. When customer service professionals take responsibility for blatant errors and offer up a sincere and unreserved apology, they quickly establish rapport and trust and this results in problems being settled much more quickly—and more likely without litigation. An apology helps diffuse anger and reestablishes trust, and this makes everyone happy. The fact is, happy customers aren’t inclined to sue.

 The practice of apologizing improves the organizational reputation.

Research has found that when an organization adopts a strategy like Sorry Works, it develops a reputation for honesty.

 It is a positive practice to express concern for every problem— you’ll likely find that your trust and credibility will improve dramatically.

 Anger diffusion has been proven to reduce the cost of settlement.

Michigan doctors using Sorry Works say families often settle for less than what they would receive in a lawsuit because they feel they are being treated fairly.

TARP, Inc., a 30-year-old firm that measures customer satisfaction and loyalty, has found that an approach to complaint handling, which emphasizes diffusion of anger, actually can decrease the cost of remedying customer problems. Rational customers who feel that a company is concerned about their problems will generally accept a lesser remedy than complainants who are angry.

The simple act of apologizing to a customer can go a long way in diffusing angry customers, restoring customer confidence, and regaining goodwill. Not only that, it will most often decrease the cost of remedying customer problems.

When dealing with unhappy customers, apologize up front and work to quickly correct the problem and you will find that you save your organization potentially thousands in repeat calls, escalated calls, customer defection, and even litigation.

Tip: I suggest employees apologize when the organization is at fault AND when the organization is NOT at fault. An apology when the organization is not a fault might sound like this: “Please accept my apology for any inconvenience this misunderstanding may have caused you.

You might also wanto to read: “The Corporate Apology in 5 Easy Steps.”