Saluting the Squawkers: Complaints Often Key to Improving Sales, Retention and Loyalty

It's said nobody likes a complainer. I beg to differ. In customer service a complainer is doing you a favor. They are the extension of your research, testing and quality assurance departments. Although essentially unpaid, they're providing you with invaluable, often real-time feedback on what isn't working in your business or your relationship with them. Try to put a price tag on that!

We know from surveys that most unhappy customers voice their displeasure with their feet -- they just walk. They simply go away. No fanfare, no pronouncements. One day they're disgruntled, the next they disappear.

You belatedly discern they've left but why? What happened? By then, it's probably too late. So let's celebrate the complainers. Let's salute the squeakers. The data they provide make improvement possible. Their feedback gives you end-user validation of your processes and procedures, your product lines and service levels.

Since most customers are convinced you either don't care or won't change, those that care to share should be valued and rewarded. Be open to their feedback. See the long term value of fixing a problem this customer has experienced. For each customer who complains many more may have already moved away, or will soon if you don't fix your problem.

Make it easy for customers to give you feedback and listen generously when they do come forth. Telling a customer "nobody else has complained" misses the point. Consider the following action steps to leverage complaints into constructive improvement:

Thank customers for taking the time to let you know of their less than stellar experiences.

Honor their courage in speaking up

Reward their input in little yet meaningful ways: complimentary items, discounts, future preferential treatment, etc.

When you act on their complaint let them know you've done so. They'll feel their power and your responsiveness will strengthen the bond between you and them.

In its own way a complaint is a compliment they cared enough to let you fix the problem. They think you're capable of doing so and will be delighted when you do. They're a customer worth saving!

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