Customers who complain
are really the kind you want
Written by Shirley Lichti for The Record,
January 13, 1999
How often have you been disappointed with
a product or service and complained about it? TARP (Technical Assistance
Research Programs), a U.S. group which focuses on complaining customers,
found that 26 out of 27 people who experience problems do not complain.
Companies that mistakenly interpret silent
customers as satisfied customers are in for a rude awakening. TARP's
studies show that only 4% of customers complain. Most just go away
angry and simply stop doing business with you.
You can't stop customers from defecting
if you never hear about their problems. Giving customers a way to
complain can represent a golden opportunity. Listening and responding
appropriately minimizes the damage unhappy customers can create
for your business. The average upset customer tells nine people.
One in five tells more than 20 people.
Because my company provides customer service
training, I tell thousands of people about my negative experiences
as a customer. While this might be a little unusual, bear in mind,
customers are changing. Complaining used to be a private matter.
Not anymore. Today's irate customers may very well broadcast their
concerns over the Internet, informing millions of people.
Companies looking to improve service recovery
need to start by changing their attitudes. Customer gripes must
be viewed as valuable feedback. Complaints are one of the most available,
yet underutilized, sources of marketing information.
Companies should welcome complaints and
make it easy for customers to provide feedback. After all, customers
who take the time to complain still have some confidence in the
organization. Although they may be complaining, at least they are
still talking to you. Those who complain are exhibiting a degree
of loyalty and a genuine desire to get their problem fixed.
Furthermore, of those who do complain, 56
to 70 per cent will do business with your company again if the complaint
is resolved. That goes up to 96 per cent if the complaint is resolved
Research also shows that customers who have
never had a problem with a company are less loyal than those who
have had problems successfully resolved. So unhappy customers who
complain and have their problems resolved may become your best customers.
They are more likely to tell others how pleased they are that their
complaint was addressed. And, if the problem is resolved satisfactorily,
they will tell even more people about it than if they had received
good service in the first place!
British Airways is a notable example of
an organization that has encouraged customer feedback. By installing
video booths at Heathrow Airport, it gave angry customers an easy
way to sound off. The taped complaints were sent to top management,
giving them an unfiltered glimpse into passenger frustration. Their
focus on responding to customer complaints paid off. It shed its
"bloody awful" image and has become known as one of the best airlines
in the world.
Service recovery does not happen automatically.
Companies need to establish procedures and train staff so that everyone
in the organization knows how to handle complaints. Here are some
suggestions that may help your company recover from situations where
customer expectations have not been met.
- Thank customers for taking the time to
complain. Explain that you appreciate hearing from them because
it gives you the opportunity to take corrective action.
- Take time to hear out customers, giving
them a chance to vent. You need to ensure you understand all their
concerns. Show empathy. Never minimize the situation, as this
will only make customers even more enraged.
- It is important to apologize to customers,
but wait until you understand their concerns first. Otherwise
your apology may sound hollow.
- Ask customers what they would like you
to do. They will usually want less than you think. It is estimated
that fewer than two per cent of customers will systematically
try to cheat you. Even if you do meet with a dishonest customer,
the goodwill you build fixing the problem is probably worth more
than the cost of a replacement product or the value of the service.
- Take responsibility for solving the problem.
Don't pass the complaint off to another department to handle.
The customer brought the complaint to you. Stay in the loop until
it is resolved.
- Effectively overcome the problem.
- Follow up to ensure customers are satisfied.
If you ask customers directly if they are happy with your solution,
chances are they will buy from you again. If appropriate, you
might thank them again for bringing the matter to your attention
and let them know how your organization will try to prevent future
Remember, customers who take time to complain
want to make things better. Are you listening?