Why customer complaints are useful

How to handle customer complaints

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The phrase “customer complaint” is often met with concern, frustration and even disdain. It can cause a toxic wave of head-burying and finger-pointing. But let’s take a moment to reframe customer complaints and consider why they are a “good thing”.

A customer complaint highlights areas for improvement and valuable insight into consumer preferences. If handled by well-trained customer service teams, complaints can help businesses enhance their services, exceed customer expectations, build brand reputation, and attract more loyal customers.

And the upshot of all this? Let’s not be bashful; it’s all about trouncing the competition and making your company more profitable. Business growth is only possible with a satisfied customer base to build upon, after all.

Effective complaint resolution provides a better understanding of how your existing customers feel about your brand. This allows you to do more of what they want and double down on your sales and marketing efforts to acquire more of them.

This article will explore why customer complaints are good, why they should be approached head-on, and how they are a valuable tool for improving customer loyalty and succeeding in a competitive market. Turn complaints into opportunities for wow-worthy customer experiences!

Why you need a dedicated customer service team

Let’s consider the barriers to establishing a dedicated team to handle customer complaints.

“If we need more staff to handle complaints, then we clearly have big issues!”

“We can’t call the customer support team ‘complaint handlers’ – it makes it look like we have unhappy customers!”

I can almost feel the collective eye roll of hundreds of customer experience and customer service professionals who have had to battle against just that type of mindset.

The good news is that the business world is steadily waking up to the power of harnessing complaints to drive continuous improvement. It’s no longer frowned upon to admit you get customer complaints or that you have a dedicated team to deal with them.

Case Study: Octopus Energy

Forward-looking companies like Octopus Energy are totally transparent about their complaint statistics. They have nothing to hide and want to prove their commitment to improving their service.

While their complaint statistics have remained steady, thanks to proactive complaint handling, they have enjoyed a huge surge in new customers—some 750,000 in just nine months.

Customer satisfaction is falling – it’s time to act

Salesforce reported that 91% of customers who are unhappy with a brand will simply vote with their feet and that only one in 26 unhappy customers is likely to raise a complaint. Further cause for concern is the continued decline of the UK Customer Satisfaction Index, which was at a 15-year low in 2023.

Accepting that complaints are necessary is not enough. A successful business understands that customer service is a business asset and that complaints are valuable tools for continuing to wow customers. If more companies learn to view complaints as a positive thing, we, as a nationwide customer experience industry, can reverse this negative trend.

Sources: Salesforce and Institute of Customer Service

What is the impact of customer complaints on a business?

This question often elicits a panicked reaction. Of course, it’s true that customer complaints can destroy a brand’s reputation, especially in a world where dissatisfied customers post messages on social media – gulp.

However, complaints themselves do not ruin businesses (except in cases of negligence, of course); the damage is caused by the failure to manage customer complaints effectively.

So let’s rephrase the question to, “What is the impact of mishandling customer complaints?

When a company brushes off customer complaints, things can get out of control quickly. Ignored complaints breed discontent, stir social media frenzy, prompt further complaints, and can drive people to take their business elsewhere faster than you can say “dissatisfied customer.”

Then there is the internal impact. There’s nothing like customer complaints to induce a mood of panic and anxiety, which can turn into conflict and seriously unhappy employees. So, a business that mishandles customer complaints risks losing staff as well as customers.

Plus, ignoring complaints is like chucking valuable feedback straight into the bin. Every piece of negative feedback is an opportunity for improvement and can enhance your competitive advantage.

Turn a customer complaint into actionable customer feedback

Let’s face it, nobody enjoys negative feedback. But consider why customers complain. The fact they have chosen to verbalise their dissatisfaction means that they had high expectations of your business in the first place. That probably means they are reluctant to look elsewhere just yet and are open to a resolution. Great! So take their comments on board and turn things around.

Repeat after me, “Customer complaints are good! Customer complaints open opportunities”!

Every complaint is an opportunity to collect direct feedback about what your customer values. Companies can spend thousands on consumer insight initiatives to understand what motivates their customers, but every complaint is free insight, so why not use it?

How to approach customer complaints

POV: You understand why customer complaints are useful and how they can help your business be more competitive and increase customer loyalty. But you’re not sure what to do next.

Here is some practical advice to help your company deal with customer complaints like pros. But be prepared: this requires a shift in company philosophy and internal processes which has to come from the top down.

1. Reframe ‘customer complaints’

A popular search engine gives the definition of ‘complaining’ as:

the expression of dissatisfaction or annoyance about something.

“his complaining has been a little bit annoying”

An online thesaurus suggests grumbling, bellyaching, moaning and whining as helpful synonyms.

This perfectly sums up why the word ‘complaint’ within a business is so corrosive. Anyone using it to describe a customer is giving themselves permission to see that customer as a nuisance.

The first step is to reframe the way your company perceives and reacts to complaints. Be rational and refer to the ‘complainer’ as what they really are: an unhappy customer.

It’s the first step towards respecting your customer and their right to raise a genuine grievance. This simple change in language helps employees to empathise with the customer and become motivated to find a resolution.

2. Accept that there is no such thing as an unfounded complaint

If you’re forced to investigate a complaint when the customer has misunderstood the proposition or set their expectations too high, it’s a real time-waster, right? Wrong.

In order to truly embrace complaints as a driver for change, you need to become customer-centric and accept FULL accountability for the customer experience. Every complaint, no matter how seemingly trivial, reflects a customer’s perception or experience, which is valid in its own right.

Your customers are not experts on your business. They will never spend as much time looking at your website as you do, and they can’t be expected to care about the internal challenges of delivering your service.

As a business leader, you are entirely accountable for ensuring that the customer proposition is communicated clearly and without ambiguity. By doing so, you can begin to review negative feedback with absolute objectivity and unearth the root cause of legitimate complaints.

3. Set the highest standards

If a customer has expressed dissatisfaction in any way, then they should be counted, contacted, and learned from.

Take it one step further – if your business model aims to delight customers, then consider anything less than a full five-star review an expression of dissatisfaction. Sure, you will find loyal customers who love what you do but never give top marks for anything. You also might just learn the secret ingredient you have been missing.

4. Learn from every single complaint that comes your way

So many companies are data-rich yet insight-poor. Use software to spot complaint trends to enable proactive interactions and ensure the volume of complaints reduces over time.

Why not make it a policy that the handler must suggest two things that could have prevented every complaint? Some of your best insight comes from your team’s experts, and they will feel more empowered and engaged if they have been involved in the change process.

5. Actively follow up on complaints

While many organisations employ dedicated complaint handlers, very few companies actively follow up on every customer complaint. Resolve a complaint and go further by contacting the customer to ensure they are satisfied.

Handling customer complaints takes continued effort. When it comes down to it, an unhappy customer yearns for acknowledgement more than anything else. Let them know their feedback is valid and important.

Transform your customer experience with Think Wow

If you are a business owner or senior leader looking to improve customer communication and empower your employees to provide excellent customer service, Think Wow can help.

Our engaging training programmes are designed to revolutionise your approach to customer experience. With over a decade of experience, we’ve helped many organisations harness the power of feedback to attract, win, and retain their ideal customers.

Don’t let unresolved complaints tarnish your reputation, ruin staff morale, or hinder your growth. Let’s turn every complaint into an opportunity for wow-worthy customer experiences! Contact us today to learn more.

Picture of Rebecca Brown
Rebecca Brown
Rebecca’s intense passion for customer excellence began over a decade ago when she oversaw the opening of several high-end retail art galleries, balancing the need for an exceptional experience with a drive for sales.

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