How many customer complaints have you had this month?

If the answer is none, then you are probably in trouble.

No-one is perfect and no business is either.  We all make mistakes.  Some of them are bound to annoy or disappoint customers and prospects.

Moreover, our clients are not perfect either and have bad days or come across problems that they blame on us, rightly or wrongly.

Added to this is the fact that however hard we try to be crystal clear in communicating to the outside world, our audience always ends up with some misunderstandings or lack of understanding – sometimes our fault, sometimes their’s.

The result of errors and lack of understanding on both sides is customers and prospects who are not completely happy.

Hidden issues

Customer unhappiness is either expressed or suppressed.  Sometimes suppressed feelings will die out, other times they will bubble under the surface and pop up at inconvenient times.  When discussing buying more from you, the unhappy customer will likely voice her or his disapproval.  When someone else is mentioning a need which your products or services could address, an unhappy prospect will give you a negative rating.

Dissatisfied customers spread negative feedback more than satisfied customers share positive feedback. On the other hand, a dissatisfied customer whose complaint is resolved becomes a more positive advocate for your company, product and service than a customer who has never had a problem.  These are two very powerful reasons for providing a clear channel for complaints and dealing effectively with them when they come.

Uncovering complaints

Marketers should always be seeking out customer feedback.  Obviously we want to find happy customers who will give us testimonials, recommend us to their network and let us use their experience for case studies.  But we should also track user dissatisfaction so that it can be dealt with – by helping the complainant and by changing information, processes or products to avoid repeating the same problem.  Our user surveys should track Net Promoter Scores and specific areas of both delight and annoyance.

It is important to ask about the overall experience of the customer.  One of my personal annoyances is surveys that I am asked to complete after talking to a company’s customer support.  These surveys always ask about the attitude of the person I spoke to and whether they knew their job.  The answers to these questions are nearly always yes.  But often the person is not been empowered to sort my problem and so I am left frustrated, a point which the survey often misses.

Handling complaints

Customer surveys, both formal ones done by marketing and informal ones done by good sales people and customer support representatives, will uncover complaints that might otherwise bubble away under the surface.  Meanwhile other customers will contact you directly to complain, maybe with anger or even despair.

Photo of woman with headset listening
To be able to handle all types of complaint you need to

  • make sure everyone who deals with customers understands the values of complaints
  • listen and evaluate: don’t brush off the complaint but don’t accept responsibility until you establish what the fault is
  • empower front-line representatives to resolve issues whenever possible (e.g. to approve returns or replacements where justified)
  • set out a procedure for escalating more serious complaints and make management up to the highest level responsible for responding promptly
  • analyse the complaints and work out how to reduce them

These actions form a solid starting point.  Of course, there is more to be done, for example in helping employees learn how to deal with angry customers.  When I was Director of Consumer & Small Business Sales for Dell in France, I was initially astonished by the high number of times that someone who complained then experienced a second problem.  Eventually I realised that employees, including myself, often rushed to try to solve the problem because the complainant was angry.  This rush led to other errors creeping in.  Calming the situation down and taking time to make sure the first solution was right reduced the rate of secondary errors.  This was definitely a worthwhile investment. If your processes work 99.9% of the time, then you had better make sure they work 99.99% of the time for those who are complaining.  A second mistake is likely to entrench their negative view of you.

So, we all need to find our unhappy customers, for there will be some.  Then we need to deal with them to turn them into satisfied customers.  We also need to analyse problems and address any root causes.

Have a good time with your complaints.  There is a lot of satisfaction in turning a complainant into a satisfied customer.

Think there are mistakes in this article or that I have left out something important?  Please do complain – leave a comment below.  

Further reading:

Cherish Customer Complaints:

How Unhappy Customers can Paradoxically Help Your Business