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If you work in customer service, chances are you know the signs of a complaining customer.
You might recognize them by their pointed tones, their defensive, often raised voices (over email or live chat, this may present itself as all caps writing), and their creative use of insults. You may recognize the way they hold up the line at checkout, the way they demand to speak to management, or the way a look of disbelief plants itself on their faces when they hear that what they are asking for simply cannot be done.
Nobody likes a complaining customer, yet it’s something that every organization has to deal with. What businesses are increasingly realizing, however, is that despite their bad rap, complaining customers are a lot more than just a stitch in your side – they are something that every company can and should learn from.
Here are the top 7 reasons why complaining customers are your best customers, and what you can do to turn dreaded customer complaints into golden opportunities.
If there is one thing that can be said about complaining customers, it’s that complaining customers care. They care enough to let you know that your service wasn’t on par with what they had hoped – to tell you that your product fell short of their expectations. They care enough to take time out of their day – be it minutes or hours – to try and right what they perceive as a wrong.
This may not be the fuzzy sort of care that companies and agents hope for from their customers. However, complaining customers are often indicative of a bigger issue – one where the majority of those who are affected don’t care enough to speak out at all.
According to the White House Office of Consumer Affairs, for every customer who bothers to complain, 26 customers remain silent. That means that only 4 percent of dissatisfied customers complain, while 96 percent will never let you know that there was a problem.
Customers may not bother to complain for many reasons. They may believe that it will be too difficult, too frustrating, or simply not worth their time to complain. They may not trust the company to handle their complaint seriously or feel like it will make a difference in the long run. They may fear a disappointing outcome to their complaint, or even retribution from the staff (in food service, for example, customers may not complain out of fear that servers or kitchen staff will tamper with their food).
The good news is that your friend, the complaining customer, has cast aside or overcome all of these fears. They have beaten the odds by deciding that they care enough to speak out – to let your company know about any failures rather than sweeping them under the rug.
Complaining customers tell it like it is. They tend to be straightforward and honest with companies about what they feel, and about the quality of the service or products that they have received. Some complaining customers know exactly how they want their future experiences with the company to improve and will let you know directly.
Although this honesty can be brutal (and often isn’t the direct fault of the agents that are hearing the customer complaint), it is more helpful and impactful than a three-star review of your product that says, “It was ok.”
Despite the fact that complaining customers don’t sugarcoat their words, they also don’t always live up to the stereotypes that exist about them. While it’s true that some complaining customers may become frustrated and upset, others might deliver candid complaints in a polite and friendly fashion. These sorts of complaints often couple honesty with compassion, and can result in an assertive conversation that is open-minded and digestible for everyone.
Studies show that your average dissatisfied customer will tell 9 to 15 people about their negative experience. Around 13 percent of dissatisfied customers will tell more than 20 people.
The beauty of a complaining customer is that instead of grumbling about your company to their family and friends, the customer is expressing their grievances directly to you. This gives you a chance that you would not have had were the customer to complain behind your back – a chance to remedy your customer’s frustrations.
Out of the 96 percent of unhappy customers that don’t voice their complaints, 91 percent will walk away and never come back. These customers silently defect to a competitor and often leave companies wondering why.
By listening empathetically to your complaining customer and coming up with a quality solution to their problem or grievance, you will be able to tilt the playing field back in your favor and stop them from walking straight into the arms of the competition.
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Helping a complaining customer get from a problem to a satisfactory solution isn’t just important for keeping their business. If you play your cards right, complaining customers can become your most loyal patrons – and your most vocal advocates.
A customer’s whose complaint is positively received will feel like they have a voice within the organization. A customer who complains about a particular process or product – and sees actionable changes in response to their complaint – will feel like they have a higher stake in your business than a passive customer. A customer who receives compensation for an inconvenience or a negative experience will begin to trust that your company values them and cares about their satisfaction.
In the end, you can develop a stronger relationship with your complaining customer than you had with them before any problems ever took place. This newly strengthened relationship comes with an added perk: complaining customers who are impressed by a company’s resolution often let their social circles know, either in person or on social media.
Unfortunately, not all customers make genuine complaints. According to Mash Bonigala, founder and CEO of Spellbrand Inc., “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.”
Fortunately, as Bonigala notes, “These kinds of people are actually good for the company, because they expose holes in your customer service process that can be exploited.”
While you should never treat complaining customers like they are trying to exploit your company, recognizing places where your business is vulnerable to loss is important to protecting your investment, and improving internal processes.
Nobody likes to handle complaints. But the more complaints your team handles, the better they get at handling them.
Customer complaints can teach employees valuable skills, such as how to de-escalate a tense situation with an upset customer and how to work well under stress. Since complaining customers may be making a second or even third contact with the company, it teaches agents how to creatively solve difficult problems that couldn’t be resolved with a scripted approach.
Each time customer service agents face a customer complaint, they will grow more focused on making the customer happy. Customer complaints teach us that one-line email replies and other displays of sloppy service just don’t cut it – that customers should be helped properly the first time.
Customer service agents aren’t the only ones that can grow from handling customer complaints. Customer complaints can help companies develop better products and services that are better suited to meet their customers’ needs and expectations. They can alert businesses to problems with their website, or highlight the need for a smoother, more user-friendly web experience.
Customer complaints can help companies identify where they can improve policies and procedures. For example, after receiving complaints (namely a letter written by Taylor Swift), Apple Music reversed its policy of not paying artists during a listener’s trial period. By embracing complaints as feedback, businesses like Apple can begin to identify and rethink outdated policies that negatively impact the customer experience.
Customer complaints can also reveal breaks in communication between a corporation and its customers. For example, if several customers complain about an unclear product warranty, the company can go back and review whether the warranty’s limits were made clear or there is room for improvement. Complaints can also help companies identify any outdated or erroneous information that is being made available to customers.
By examining customer complaints, businesses can improve customer service training. Companies can also use complaints to examine how customer feedback is handled on an organizational level, and whether it gets passed through the appropriate channels and into the right hands.
So how can you make sure that your company puts customer complaints to good use? Here are some simple but effective tips:
To best make use customer complaints, start by making sure that all complaints are being handled professionally. Encourage your team to do the following:
Resolve – With all the facts about the issue and your empathy in hand, provide the customer with a quality solution to the problem.
Recommended for you: How to Apologize to Customers Effectively
Not every agent will be equipped to handle every complaint. Make sure that your representatives know when and how to pass the issue along to management should they need to.
Cultivate Appreciation for the Complaining Customer
Agents should never approach a customer complaint believing that the customer is wrong or “crazy”. Foster an environment of understanding of and appreciation for the complaining customer within your contact center or business. Let your team know that complaining customers are not against you; enforce this in training by sharing success stories of complaining customers and by engaging in training activities that cultivate empathy.
Recommended for you: [eBook] 50 Customer Service Training Activities for Live Chat and Telephone Teams
Examine how your company currently handles customer complaints. Establish a procedure for forwarding important and reoccurring complaints to the appropriate department (i.e. letting IT know if there is a website issue). Create an accountability system so that all parties do their part in making sure that critical complaints are acted upon.
You don’t have to wait for the customer complaints to come to you. Encourage customers to complain by making it easy for them to get in touch with representatives. Create a designated space for customers to express their complaints, and contribute their ideas for solutions. For example, Comm100 has a feedback forum where customers can state problems, make requests, post ideas, and more. The content on this forum then goes to improving the product and developing new features.
Not all complaints about your company will be made directly to you. Use social listening to learn what other complaining customers have to say about your brand. You can use this feedback to make changes, or you can jump into the conversation and offer your assistance.
Customer complaints are a lot of things. In the end, they are just like every other life experience that comes flying at us: we can choose to deal with them or we can choose to grow from them.
The more you choose to use customer complaints as fuel for growth – and the more systems you put in place to sustain that commitment – the better the results will be for your company, your customers, and your team.
For information on how to minimize customer complaints by improving customer satisfaction, check out our blog post, One and Done: How to Optimize Your First Contact Resolution Rate
Complaining customers are merely one type of difficult customers. Download this eBook to learn more on how to prevent, deal with, and follow up on difficult customers.Download Now