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.
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
In my world all complaints are relevant, but not all have the
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
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
My experience is that the value of a continuous study of
complaints and complaint handling can be divided into two main
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
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!!
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