Complaining customers often get a bad rap. To employees, they can be difficult and unpleasant to deal with. To other customers, complainers ruin the experience for everyone else. And to business owners, complainants cost time and money that could be used for other things.
In reality, complainers are the best thing to happen to a business! Here’s why:
Complainers Show you Your Flaws
There are far too many businesses that view complainers as a pain in the neck – irritants that ruin the experience for everyone else. After all, nobody else is complaining so there isn’t actually a problem, is there? But this is totally the wrong mindset. No business is 100% perfect, not even the ones that have been around for hundreds of years. Customers fill a vital role by letting you know where you need to improve.
Even complaints that aren’t really a problem can still help your company. For example, if a customer complained about a certain product’s feature, but it turns out that the product is working as intended, you can take the opportunity to revise the user manual or place additional safety labels and this becomes an effective marketing opportunity.
They’re Honest and Impartial (Mostly)
People sometimes wonder why problems aren’t caught and corrected from within the company. This is a valid concern, but it doesn’t always work that way. The reality is, employees are not impartial sources of feedback. They may either be so eager to please their manager or so afraid of backlash that they let problems slide. Or they may be so closely involved in the project that they don’t want to admit that any issues exist.
Customers, on the other hand, don’t have to worry about politics. They can—and do—tell it like it is to whoever will listen. And the higher up the company they can get, the better. Some customers can even complain to the CEO and get amazing results. These customers they want their future experiences with the company to improve, and being direct is the best way to accomplish that.
When you’re lucky enough to get one of these honest and direct complainers, start a conversation with them and dig in to the root of the problem. Why was the package late? Was it the shipping contractor’s fault, or the warehouse? Also try to find out other problems that the customer may be having. Complaints are sometimes compounded, where a customer is experiencing multiple issues but is only telling you about one.
Fraudsters Keep You on Your Toes
If you’ve been in business for any length of time, you know that not all complaints are genuine. Sometimes customers will exaggerate or even fake complaints in order to get what they want. They ask for discounts, free products, and sometimes even monetary compensation because they see the company as a huge, easy target.
But these kinds of people are actually good for the company, because they expose holes in your customer service process that can be exploited. They are exactly the reason stores require receipts in order to give refunds, and why tracking customer interactions are so important. These fraudsters cost the company money, and their actions can negatively affect honest customers. Train your sales people to be alert and think on their feet, and to trust their instincts if something feels wrong. Take care not to be too overtly suspicious or skeptical when customers complain, though. Not every dissatisfied customer is a fraudster, and treating everyone like one is an easy way to erode your customer base.
Complainers Represent a Silent Group
A few years ago, a customer experience agency called TARP conducted an influential research study about dissatisfied customers and their relationships with companies. The study showed that only 1 out of 26 (about 4%) dissatisfied customers voice their concerns to companies that ‘wronged’ them. The other 25 (96%) dissatisfied customers stay don’t complain, but instead stop buying entirely and tell 9 out of 10 friends about their bad experience. So when a customer approaches you with a complaint, chances are many others are experiencing the same problem, and you’re losing business without ever realizing it.
Don’t write a complaint off as an isolated incident until you’re absolutely certain that it is one. Investigate each complaint thoroughly and survey other customers to see if they’re experiencing the same problem. Then contact customers who haven’t you haven’t heard from in a while and ask them why they’ve been quiet. If it turns out to be the same problem as the original complaint, you can happily inform them that the problem is solved and try to get back their business.
Converts are the Most Fanatical
No other customers are as fanatically loyal to a brand as a converted customer. The TARP study observed that if a company successfully addressed the problems of the vocal 4%, those customers would to tell at least 6 other friends of their experience within a week. These converted customers go on to have much stronger relationships with the company than they originally did, even before they experienced a problem.
Companies should make customer service and support one of their biggest priorities; not because of the bad press, but because helping a complaining customer will result in a happier, more dedicated client base. Address complaints swiftly and decisively, and customers will gladly promote you through word of mouth.
To sum it up: Complainers can be your customers’ best friends. They make you better by telling you how you need to improve, and by keeping your customer service people sharp and on the ball. They represent many other customers that you would’ve lost (and continued to lose) had the complainers stayed silent. And last of all, treat them right and you’ll turn them into your most vocal and loyal advocates.