Learning to Love Customer Complaints

Bob wasn’t happy. The product we designed specifically for him didn’t fit. After months of work creating a special component, we failed. The unit wouldn’t mount properly in the cabinet and Bob was questioning our abilities as engineers.

On the phone, we discussed various options to fix the problem until Bob exploded. He said, “You know what I want you to do? Give me a product that works!” It was pretty clear we had missed the mark.

As a team, we were devastated. This was a big customer and an important project and we had failed completely. Bob was already talking about going to the competition. We were emotional. We were mad at Bob, mad at ourselves and frustrated. It wasn’t fair.

“There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.” – Sam Walton

This story plays out every day in companies across the country. Stuff happens and customers don’t get the products or services they expect, so they complain. But that’s not the end of the story. It’s how you respond to that complaint and what you do with this information that determines how customers feel about your business.

It’s no surprise that improving customer satisfaction is good for business. Business coach and author, Rick Conlow, points to four studies that show the benefits to be gained from an improved customer experience:

  • According to Harvard Business Review, a 1.3% improvement in customer satisfaction scores results in a revenue increase of 0.5%.
  • The Profit Impact of Market Strategy’s database found that companies who lead in service have 12 times the profitability and 9% greater growth than poor service providers.
  • Bain & Co. found that a 12-point increase in the net-promoter score doubles a company’s growth rate.
  • A report by the American Customer Satisfaction Index proved that the leading companies consistently outperformed the market. Customer service leaders outperformed the Dow by 93%, the Fortune 500 by 20% and the NASDAQ by 335%.

In my experience, the best data on customer satisfaction is the customer complaint. Complaints are real. They are visceral. They provide a real-time, raw and genuine view of the customer experience. They are unfiltered, emotional and vitally important to the future success of your organization. That’s why they are so valuable.

“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” – Bill Gates

Complaints are like gold. They are nuggets of truth that can help your organization in several ways:

Customer complaint data can provide a window into the customer experience. A simple system to capture customer complaint data can provide valuable insight into how well the company is performing. Are complaints trending up or down? How quickly are problems being solved? What products are creating the most complaints? Which type of customers are complaining the most? Reviewing complaint data on a regular basis will help companies better understand how their business is performing and where action is needed to make improvements.

Customer complaint data can help pinpoint systemic problems. Data from customer complaints can help identify underlying problems, common failure modes and systemic issues affecting the organization. Over time, complaint data trends can reveal problems companies didn’t even know existed. Simple trending and pareto analysis by product, customer, type of complaint, department or even employee can help reveal these underlying problems. Seeing the data will help companies identify root causes and solve problems permanently.

Customer complaints help foster a customer-focused culture. When complaints are seen as a valuable source of critical business information instead of a problem, the culture begins to change. Making it a business priority to resolve complaints quickly and using the data to solve underlying problems immediately adds the “voice of the customer” to business processes. This culture can be further reinforced by communicating improvements and celebrating successes.

“In today’s world, meaningful differences between businesses are rarely rooted in price or product, but instead in customer experience.” – Jay Baer

You might be wondering what happened to Bob. As it turned out, we figured out what the problem was and we developed a simple method to fix it in the field. We then sent our best mechanical engineer on the next flight out to take care of the problem.

While our engineer was still on site addressing the issue, Bob sent us another order that was three times larger than the first order. He said that he was incredibly impressed with how we handled this situation. In the end, he was happy and rewarded our efforts with more business.

“Happy customers are your biggest advocates and can become your most successful sales team.” — Lisa Masiello

This is why I’m learning to love customer complaints. They are raw, emotional and uncomfortable but they are also a window into the customer experience. They are nuggets of truth that can help you refine your customer experience, improve your performance and grow your business.

To learn more about embracing complaints, I recommend reading Hug Your Haters: How to Embrace Complaints and Keep Your Customers by Jay Baer. In this book, Baer explains how, where and why customers complain. Baer shows there are two types of complainers, each with very differ­ent motivations and each needing a different approach.

Offstage haters. These people simply want solutions to their problems. They don’t care if anyone else finds out, as long as they get answers.

Onstage haters. These people turn to indirect venues, such as social media, online review sites and discussion boards to share their frustrations. Onstage haters want more than solutions, they want an audience to share their pain.

One thought on “Learning to Love Customer Complaints

  • Very interesting view point and certainly was eye opening for me. Will work on implementing this strategy as opposed to seeing complaints as problems.

    Thank you Jon

    Ron Desrosiers

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