Why We Should 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.

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’s Employ­ee-Customer-Profit Chain, 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%.

Rick states that one of the reasons why companies fail to take advantage of these benefits is that they are ignorant of what is really going on with the customer experience. Companies talk about the importance of customer service but make no serious attempt to understand and measure it. Surveys are a great tool but they have disadvantages as well. They are not done in real-time and not all customers will give you accurate feedback.

Smart leaders are learning to treat customer complaints like gold, using them to improve their business processes. Click To Tweet

A better tool and one that is available to all companies is the customer complaint. Complaints are provided in real-time and provide a realistic view of the customer experience. Smart leaders are learning to treat customer complaints like gold, using them to improve their business processes. If used correctly, complaints can be a valuable tool to help measure performance, solve systemic problems, and create a customer-focused culture.

Complaints can be a valuable tool to help measure performance, solve systemic problems, and create a customer-focused culture. Click To Tweet

Customer complaint data can help measure performance. A simple system to capture customer complaint data can provide valuable insight into how well an organization 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 complaints can help solve systemic problems. Data from customer complaints can help identify underlying problems, common failure modes, and systemic issues affecting an organization. Over time, complaint data trends can reveal challenges companies didn’t know even existed. Simple trending and pareto analysis by product, by customer, by type of complaint, by department, or even by employee can help reveal these underlying problems. Seeing the data will help companies identify root causes and solve problems permanently.

Customer complaints can 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 critical business priority to resolve complaints quickly and use 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.

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 Click To Tweet

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.

Is Your Company Listening?


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[Photo from Canva]

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