Running a business

How to handle customer complaints

A complaint is a chance to turn an unhappy customer into a loyal customer. Use the information on this page to help you set up a process that helps you and your staff calmly work through most complaints.

Set up a process for handling complaints

  1. Work out the key steps you need to take when handling a customer’s complaint by referring to the types of complaints your:
    • industry usually receives
    • business has already received.
  2. Think about what to do when things happen that are out of your control such as:
    • we're short-staffed
    • the customer is still angry after we've apologised
    • the computer 'goes down'.
  3. Check that your plan treats customers fairly under Australian Consumer Law.

Put it in writing

Formalise your process by writing a customer complaints policy. You should also:

  • train staff and provide step by step instructions for dealing with complaints
  • schedule a regular review of the process and update it based on the findings.

Use the Small Business Complaints Toolkit to help you develop your policy and instructions for staff.  

Consumer and Business Services

The customer can contact Consumer and Business Services (CBS) if they feel they have been treated unfairly. If their request for assistance is accepted, CBS will contact you to:

  • gather information and record all the facts
  • provide information to both parties
  • offer advice.

Most problems can be solved through these discussions.

Compulsory conciliation conferences

If you can’t agree on a solution, the Commissioner for Consumer Affairs can call for a special conference before the customer goes ahead with legal action. The commissioner will decide how the conference takes place – eg telephone, video conferencing, in person – and will consider the following before calling this meeting:

  • the problem and  what can be proven
  • the number of complaints against a business
  • how the business handles customer complaints
  • any legal issues.

CBS will act as a neutral third party. The customer and the business must attend the meeting. If there is a good reason for cancelling, another date can usually be arranged. Businesses can be fined up to $10,000 if they don't have a reasonable excuse.

The business must obey all of the terms of an agreement they enter into with the customer. If this doesn't happen, the customer or the commissioner can apply to the Magistrates Court to enforce it.

Taking action through the court

CBS will stop conciliation if the business and the customer can't agree on a solution. The customer or the business can proceed with court action.

Civil claims on the Courts Administration Authority website guides you through each step of formal legal action.

Contact Consumer and Business Services

Phone

131 882

In person

91 Grenfell Street
Adelaide

Post

GPO Box 1719
Adelaide SA 5001


Related information

Other websites


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Page last updated 31 January 2017

Provided by:
Attorney-General's Department
URL:
http://www.sa.gov.au/topics/business-and-trade/running-a-business/handling-complaints
Last Updated:
31/01/17
Printed on:
21/09/17
Copyright statement:
SA.GOV.AU is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia Licence. © Copyright 2016