Why Do Consumers Complain Online and How Can You Deal with It?

By Joanna Clark Simpson,

Why do people write online reviews?

The prospects of retail lay in customer experience. Forming a bond with your existing customer base through personalization strategies and good service to promote loyalty and recommendations should be your focus going forward.

Crucial to this end is listening to customers and taking on board feedback, positive and negative. Consumers generally post reviews on platforms such as Reddit, Quora, and Facebook, and consumer review websites like, because they want their voice to be heard.

This could be for altruistic reasons. They may have had a good experience with a company or product and want to spread the word so others can benefit, although, satisfied customers rarely take to voicing their opinion. Or, it could be because they are unhappy with the service provided by a company and felt that the situation was not satisfactorily resolved.

It’s vital that a company occupies the space between an unhappy consumer and a negative online review and provides an outlet for this dissatisfaction that is not only accessible and responsive but an understanding of what motivates consumers too.

In general, consumer reviews give feedback on one or more aspects:

  • value for money;
  • personal experience with a company’s service or product;
  • quality of a company’s service or product;
  • shipping and delivery times;
  • customer service and aftercare.

The psychology of complaints: the thought process of the disgruntled consumer

First of all, if anything at all goes wrong, who is the customer likely to hold responsible? 


Attribution theory posits that when circumstances are favorable, an individual tends to firstly link this to personal successes or abilities, such as hard work, perceptiveness, or skill. Conversely, when things aren’t looking so good, people are more likely to point the finger elsewhere before considering that the situation may be due to any personal failings.

What’s more, consumers are likely to take a harder line against transactions conducted through technology than those made in person. So, when an interaction takes place online, with no direct human involvement, a consumer is quicker to hold the company at the other end to account.

Why is the consumer not hearing everything you’re saying?

People are quicker to jump to conclusions that support their already existing views, rather than those that question them. In psychological terms, this is known as confirmation bias. So, when presented with new information, people will sooner find a way to fit it into the framework of their existing beliefs than consider an alternative point of view.

For some individuals, confirmation bias can highlight perceived injustice, malpractice, or wrongdoing. This can provide the emotional spark that motivates the consumer to complain, particularly if they have certain expectations for the purchase and feel let down.

Once a consumer has formed a negative impression, it’s very difficult to win them over again

By the time a consumer has decided that a company is to blame, their thought process has already moved onto determining whether the fault was due to intentional deviousness or misleading information, or down to a mistake, omission, or just incompetence. At this point, the customer may either conclude that you are purposefully misleading consumers, or are negligent of quality control or standards of customer service.

At this stage, the consumer is invested in their negative opinion, and with this sunk cost they are increasingly unlikely to change their mind, admit an error of judgment, or accept that they were wrong.

Listen to your customers and show them that you hear their concerns

So, how do you stop things from progressing to the point of no return? Well, the most effective mitigation strategy you can put to use to resolve customer issues is your approach to handling customer complaints.

Test all your systems that your customers interact with. Make sure they run smoothly and are not going to cause misconceptions or confusion. The majority of complications arise from this controllable issue. 

Complaint handling

Streamline your mechanism for customer complaints. Make the channel for complaints visible, accessible and simple to use. Endeavor to respond to concerns quickly and with a human touch, to show that you have understood why the individual is complaining. Don’t just deliver a generic response. Online platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Pissed Consumer provide you with options to respond to complaints. Use this opportunity to handle negative feedback. 

Deal with complaints quickly and show the customer that you acknowledge their issue, are grateful for their feedback, and will take their suggestions on board. Regardless of whether you are at fault, a gesture of goodwill in the form of a refund or discount will help alleviate the consumers' sense of being ripped off or mislead.

There’s a good chance that, following these tips, you can turn a negative situation into a positive by taking advantage of the opportunity to connect with your customer in a way that creates a lasting positive impression and, with luck, a loyal, long term customer.


Guest post courtesy of Joanna, Head of Marketing at

Mercy - CBNation

This is a post from a CBNation writer. CBNation is a Business to Business (B2B) Brand focusing on increasing the visibility of and providing resources for CEOs, entrepreneurs and business owners. CBNation consists of blogs(, podcasts ( and videos ( CBNation is proudly powered by Blue 16 Media.

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