When someone gives you a beautifully wrapped package, you say “thank you.” Likewise, thank customers who complain; their complaint is truly a “gift.”
What gift has the complaining customer given you? It’s easier to see complaints as gifts by considering what could have happened:
• The customer doesn’t complain but takes their business to your completion.
• The customer talks to coworkers, family and friends about your business.
• Posts their complaint on the internet (i.e. eBay, TripAdvisor and YELP …)
• Paces 12’ x 20’ billboard on their lawn telling all passersby about how badly they were treated by your business.
• They could lodge a complaint with their mayor, governor or congressional representative.
Complaining customers truly are bearing gifts. A business wants to receive as many of these gifts as possible. That’s right, more complaints gifts the better.
Unfortunately, setting goals of “customer complaint reduction” cannot increase customer satisfaction.
Head of British Airways (BA) described how his company reduced complaints by making it harder for customers to complain:
“We tried to make it difficult for the complainant by insisting telephone callers write in and by adhering strictly to a rule book that allowed us to tell customers that they were at fault by breaking a BA regulation which they weren’t even aware of.”
More organizations are beginning to realize they need to train every employee to recognize the “gift” of a customer complaint, to know more about complaining customers, backed by a process to resolve complaints quickly.
Seminal research on valuing complaints found in A Complaint is A Gift, by Janelle Barlow and Claus Møller, identified four distinct categories of gift-giving “complainers”:
Voicers, the “most desirable of dissatisfied customers…tell when they had bad experiences.” Voicers interject how to improve services and, “they generally do not go out and tell a bunch of other people about bad service or products.” Ideally, all unhappy customers are converted into Voicers, and resolve their dissatisfaction promptly. Voicers represent 37% of complainers.
14% of complainers are Passives. “A company can provide bad service or products to this group of non-complainers, and they will keep coming back … at least for a while.” Passives are quiet, but undesirable. Avoiding the opportunity to fix the problem, they eventually quit handling with you. You never learn why but, their friends, coworkers, and neighbors certainly hear why.
“The Irates are the most lethal…In many cases, they will not say a word to the service provider or company. But they will tell lots of people about bad service and will stop buying.” Empowered by the internet, Irates represent about 21% of complainers.
Activists represent 28% or complainers, “may be seeking revenge while spreading the word of the company’s bad service to everyone and never again patronizing the company.” (Note: A Voicer, who doesn’t feel treated fairly by the business, may turn Activist … Another reason to value Voicers.)
Often, customers wrap complaint gifts in emotions of frustration, irritation and defensiveness. Learning to see past the emotional wrapping to the important message inside, expedites complaint process. Most unresolved complaints are the result of a process that does not:
• Welcome complaints as gifts.
• Provide training to all employees for complaint recovery.
• Empower everyone in the organization to quickly resolve complaints
Improve products and fix service breakdowns, by valuing complaints.
Encourage customers to complain with a welcoming, positive, FAST process. Resolve one complaint permanently everyday and watch your customer satisfaction boom.