Complaints: An irritation or an inspiration?

Questioning complaints

How do you approach complaints?

Are they an irritation?
Do they detract you from what you want to be doing?


Do you welcome them to learn about your business?
Do you monitor and evaluate what comes in and out effectively?
Do you know how satisfied your customers are with their complaint handling?

Complaints that improve the customer journey

I complain a lot, it has to be said, for myself, for friends and family and I advise others on how to do it effectively. Most organisations would like to think that they deal with complaints well and use them to improve customer service. However, in my experience and having the ear of thousands of consumers I know this is not the case and that companies can do much better to improve the customer service journey. The benefits of this of course are an increase in loyalty and sales.

My complaints have frequently elicited responses from companies demonstrating that staff have been dealt with appropriately, more training has been put in place, administration processes have been changed etc. These things which improve customer satisfaction would not have happened had I not complained. So, by receiving a well-written complaint your company can act and make changes for the better which can benefit customers, the company and its bottom line.

man talking across table to couple

How unknown complaints affect your sales

However, what about the complaints that some people, and even I, can’t be bothered to make? Take this recent example. A friend and I went shopping. In one store this friend and I both tried on clothes, it was really hot and uncomfortable in the changing rooms and I heard someone else complain to her friend how hot it was. Three of us in five minutes. How many people that day were annoyed and possibly didn’t go back and try another size etc? The result was lost sales. But it would have been so easy to rectify if management had known.

Another example was where a new shop had opened and we went in there and two, not just the one, assistants asked if they could help? NO! I LOATHE this approach. However, my mother may like a member of staff to approach and she will chat for ages. It can be difficult to train your staff to pick up whether a potential customer wants to talk, rather than unnecessarily invading her/his space, but these skills can be recruited for and developed.

Consumers' customer experience frustration

Later that day a well-known restaurant had such a poor choice of cakes, we walked out and took our custom to another one nearby that had a wider selection.

And then in yet another shop, the quantity of clothes on a wrongly-sized hanger drove us mad! This is so unhelpful, particularly for busy people. One shouldn’t have to check the label on everything knowing that it is likely to be wrong. Why aren’t staff checking that the hangers and clothes match? Because no one has told them, it’s not part of this shop’s operational procedures.

When customer service staff don't pay attention to customers

Just a moany customer?

You may think I go looking for things that I can complain about. You would be wrong as I just wanted a nice day out shopping with my friend. These could also be considered small annoyances, but how many other customers walked out of those shops? How much custom was lost? At a time when the High Street is struggling, good customer service is essential. (See Could better customer service have prevented Debenhams decline?)

The January 2019 the UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKSI) The state of customer satisfaction in the UK showed that

“The number of customers who experienced a problem with an organisation has increased and is at its highest ever level. Fewer experiences were rated by customers as “right first time.” The level of effort expended by customers in dealing with organisations increased slightly”

When customer service assistants don't answer the question

In July 2019 it showed that customer service is getting worse. The ICS Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI) showed a decline for the fourth consecutive year. And by a significant amount too. 14.3% of consumers said that they experienced a problem with customer service. This represents a rise of 1.5% since last year’s figures.

Preventing complaints

The January 2019 UKSI showed that

“The relatively low average score for complaint handling underlines its perennial importance for customer satisfaction. Only complaints that receive excellent satisfaction scores (a 9 or 10 out of 10) are likely to boost overall customer satisfaction. Most customer problems that become complaints, even those handled better than average, are likely to impair customer satisfaction. This suggests that one of the most significant actions organisations can undertake to improve satisfaction is to understand the root cause of problems for customers and prevent them from occurring.”

So even when consumers do complain there is an increased likelihood that their satisfaction drops, apart from when customer service is excellent So, add this to the complaints that people don’t even make and you have some pretty dissatisfied customers, both existing and potential…

The June 2019 survey highlighted that one of the biggest bugbears  with complaint handling cited by consumers, was companies that don’t keep their promises.

Natalie Berg, Retail Analyst and Founder of NBK Retail, agrees. She says:

“You need to be on top of your game. You need to save customers’ time or enhance it. But enhancing time goes beyond a few instore gyms or beauty bars, retailers need to give shoppers a very compelling reason to ditch their screens and come into the store.” Companies that are not keeping their promises are not saving customers’ time!

Recruiting and training to avoid complaints

Employees are paid to do a job. However, it is your job to help them do it well if you want to see a good return on investment! Ask …

Are you hiring the right employees who care about people? Look at your recruitment and training processes. Could they be improved to test for empathy, intuition, and using their initiative?

Are employees motivated to care about the success of your business? Is there more you could do to improve their loyalty to your company by doing their best for customers?

Are employees trained to understand the customer experience and factors that may engage or disengage customers? Are your employees rewarded for identifying and proactively solving difficult problems?

Get those complaints

If you truly want to improve and/or expand your business you need to empower your staff and get to hear those complaints. How else will you know why people are spending less time in your store, on your website or not returning unless you hear of more than just the big complaints? How do you garner those complaints and get meaningful feedback? There are various ways, but in short it’s not through standard mystery shops, surveys, feedback forms or gimmicks.

Rise to the challenge

What do you use? If you need some creative ideas beyond the usual, then I can help! Others might like to share their more innovative ideas. Who involves their complainers and how?

If you are a business that really wants to listen to customers, mean it when you say we want to improve things for our customers then perhaps it is time you opened yourself up to challenge. Not just do everything internally or asked consultants what they think about your customer service. Ask someone to tell you what customers ACTUALLY think. That will give you a different perspective!

How open are you to challenge?

The Complaining Cow – free support for businesses

It takes 5 times as much to gain a new customer to retain one. So work on turning your customers into superfans who do much of the heavy lifting for you!

Join the Facebook Group Increase Sales through Customer Service: Compassion, Care and  Integrity  A private group where you can give and get support, advice and share good practice on how to improve customer service.

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Customer Service how to turn customers into superfans raving about your products/services

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See The Complaining Cow Services for how Helen can help you increase sales through tweaking and improving complaint handling and customer service and just why you should choose her!

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By Helen Dewdney, The Complaining Cow

Consultant | Author | Speaker | Blogger | Presenter | Journalist
Helping to make, prevent and deal with complaints

2 replies on “Complaints: An irritation or an inspiration?”

A bus company I worked for used to recruit and retain staff for customer service skills. They had tried to look at being the ‘best bus company in the world’ – they are definitely in the top ten, and have brought up the quality of other ones in the area. As a result, they were (and, as far as I am aware, still are) the only bus company to empower every driver to give the money back to any passenger without quibble. When someone asks for their money back, we were told to find out what was wrong, and to try to put it right, but never to refuse the money refund. Very few people took advantage of this, as far as I know, despite it being advertised on every bus and elsewhere. (I must have seen thousands of people a week, year in, year out, and processed a refund about 5 times in 10 years.) But the information gathered gave the company and the relevant service/timetable/operational staff/vehicle buyers all the information about problems as they started to arise. I won’t mention the company name here, though it probably won’t take you long to find out, as I don’t want this to be a glorified advert, and I don’t think the company was perfect, but customer service was definitely at the top of concerns here, and not just an afterthought. They especially welcomed complaints, because they said that a company that sometimes didn’t get it right, but always PUT things right tended to have more loyal customers.

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