Make someone happy; - send a complaint!

By: Jacob Nagel, member of LoyaltyLab

Throughout my career I have learned to enjoy complaints. When there are no complaints, I miss them and when they arrive I rejoice. I actually love complaints! I have even gone so far that I have started to complain - not too often, but from time to time when appropriate. And I must admit that not all organisations share my joy of complaining; - far from it actually. My opinion is that they do not know the valuables they miss.

How else will you get prompt feedback from your customers?

One of the tasks I focus on in the organisations I am involved with, is the collection and use of customer feedback.

This is often difficult, as it is not natural for customers to give feedback. The risk is that a company will fall into a "slumber" and might "rest on their laurels", not feeling the customer's satisfaction or dissatisfaction with products and organization. They "never hear anything from the customers" and assume that all is well. Companies who take the challenge and do systematic measurements of satisfaction and secure customer feedback are well prepared, but often they forget the feedback that is obvious; - from the clients who spend time and energy to complain about the company's products, staff or procedures.

Hidden in these complaints are often immediate feedback that when used correctly, can detect and lead to small or large improvements to the routines and procedures that we take for granted. If you are really lucky, they may even contain ideas for new products or enhancements that nobody in the organisation has thought about.

A complaint has many faces

In my world all complaints are relevant, but not all have the same value.

We are all equipped with a natural complaint filter". The more experience we get and the better we know our customers, the better we will be able to sort relevant complaints from the less important ones. We decide what is important to our organisation; - and there's nothing wrong in that. But if you try taking off the "complaint filter" and look at the complaints from a new perspective, then it opens a potentially new world, showing value that can be transformed into improvements and adjustments in your organisation.

We all recognise the complaints that are of minor importance. Customers who keep "moaning" about the same all the time, even if we have corrected the error or mistake. Or the customer who always finds or even "produces" a mistake to complain about. Or the customer who complains to "see if he can get away with it" in the eternal hunt for a discount.

Often it's the right thing to ignore this type of complaints. But by taking the "filter" off, it will be possible to view the complaints in a new perspective - and perhaps see new opportunities. Maybe you have not fixed what really annoyed the customer. Perhaps the creative customer's eternal "nagging" just express loyalty that can be strengthened through focused attention. And maybe it's more about the experience of "the honest and real deal" rather than the discount?

Or could what you write off as an irrelevant complaint actually be of value for your business?

Other complaints you will find more meaningful. It may be the complaint from a disappointed customer who has had a bad experience the first time he did business with you. There may be a complaint from the satisfied customer who believes things "were not like they used to." It can be the customer who receives a defect or broken product and would like it to be replaced. Or it could be the old loyal customer who suddenly finds that things are not "right".

When such complaints occur, many companies are more alert; - they find that the resolution of the complaint may be of value. But unfortunately often it goes wrong anyway. You misjudge and may say "he's not one of the regular customers" or you do not give the return of a product as much attention. And if it's really bad, the people who handle the complaint fail to recognize the customer's status as a long-term loyalist.
In this way the company gambles with their customer loyalty.

It's plausible then to ask what value the handling of these complaints has for the business. And actually how do you handle them?

The value of complaints

My experience is that the value of a continuous study of complaints and complaint handling can be divided into two main areas:

  • The value you can get from analyzing the complaint; or actually what you learn about your organisation and its ability to turn knowledge into improvements
  • The value you can get by handling the customer and his complaint properly; - in other words, the future increases in customer value due to satisfactory handling

When a company receives a complaint, you must generally believe that the customer expects that the complaint is taken seriously. The customer will often assume that your company uses time and resources to respond to the complaint. The customer will expect to be recognised, to have corrections made, explanations given or maybe he just wants to be heard, - and your company's response to this will be critical to the customer's evaluation of your business.

The organisations ability to make the right judgments, analyze and learn from the results and make customer-focused complaint handling, will allow it to be better equipped to maintain and strengthen  the customers loyalty. This is supported by several studies showing that customers who get a problem solved satisfactory often become more loyal than the company's other loyal customers. There are even examples of companies that have deliberately "planted" errors for customers to experience just to let them test how professionally and effectively complaints are handled. Afterwards they have been able to measure and benefit from enhanced customer loyalty as a result of their handling. Talking about self confidence!!