How to handle customer complaints

As a business, you need a process for you and your staff to work through customer 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 complaint handling process by writing a customer complaints policy. You should:

  • 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.

Consumer and Business Services

The customer can contact Consumer and Business Services (CBS) if they feel they've 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 and assistance to both parties to reach a resolution.

Most problems can be solved through these discussions.

Compulsory conciliation conferences

If you can’t agree on a solution, CBS may arrange a compulsory conference before the customer goes ahead with legal action. Before calling a meeting, you must consider:

  • 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's a good reason for cancelling, another date will usually be arranged. Businesses can be fined up to $10,000 if they don't have a reasonable excuse for not attending.

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 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.

Information on making a civil claim is available to guide you through each step of formal legal action

Contact CBS

Online: Contact CBS

Phone: 131 882

GPO Box 1719
Adelaide SA 5001

Related information

Other websites

Tips for handling complaints - Australian Government

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Page last updated 9 May 2023

Provided by:
Attorney-General's Department
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