Voice of customer data and research are critical in a competitive environment that emphasizes customer experience and success.  Many organizations conduct satisfaction studies as part of this process. We’ve yet to meet a company that hasn’t had dissatisfied customers and customers who have complained. You’re probably familiar with the phrase by John Lydgate, a 15th century English monk, who said, “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” There will be unsatisfied customers. It is inevitable. Much has been written on how to handle these situations

Customer complaints provide valuable data.  So, what do you do to surface unvoiced complaints? There are more of these than you may realize. A study by 1st Financial Training Services found that 96% of unhappy customers don’t complain, however, 91% of those will simply leave and never come back. According to Lee Resource, for every customer that complains, there are 26 other unhappy customers who have remained silent. Silent in terms of telling you, but not necessarily silent when it comes to telling others. The White House Office of Consumer Affairs found that a dissatisfied customer will tell between 9-15 people about their experience; around 13% tell more than 20 people, which leads to damaged reputations and loss of potential customers and revenue.

There are a variety of reasons customers remain silent. According to a study by the Rockefeller Corporation, 68% of customers will leave a company because they believe that their complaint will fall on deaf ears – you don’t care about them. Others find the process of making a complaint burdensome, if there is even a process.

Perhaps you’re thinking: we ask our customers for feedback all the time. But are those customer studies you’re fielding truly seeking out complaints? If so, perhaps you ask these three common questions.

  1. On a scale from 1 to 10, how likely are you to recommend us to a friend or colleague?
  2. How would you rate your last experience with us?
  3. If you could change one thing about our product/service, what would it be?

These may be useful questions, but they do not encourage customers to complain. It is our contention that there is merit in actually encouraging your customers to complain and making it easy for them to do so.

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Be Direct to Field Useful Complaints

How you ask for complaints and the questions you use will affect your ability to collect the right data. If you’re just starting this type of effort, we recommend beginning with a direct method.

Direct methods include traditional approaches, such as using third parties to conduct customer interviews and integrating questions into your customer success initiative processes. The key to a direct method is to develop a set of questions that help you acquire constructive information from the complaints. Some potential question topics to consider include:

  • What is/are the thing(s) that frustrate(s) you most when working with us?
  • What is one thing you wish we did better?
  • What is one thing you wish we didn’t do?
  • What is one thing your favorite supplier does that you wish we did?

It is important to set up these processes and pose these questions in a way that encourages people to answer. If this isn’t something you know how to do well, seek outside expertise. As you begin to collect this information, you can refine the questions to support more indirect methods of data collection, such as an anonymous pop-up for customers who are logged into their account.

Give some thought in advance to how you plan to organize and analyze the data and set up your data collection processes accordingly. Establish categories of complaints. Employ root cause analysis techniques for the complaints that are the most common and have the most significant implications on customer experience, satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy.


How to Accept and Apply Customer Complaint Data

Now that you’ve collected the data, organized it, and completed a root cause analysis, what you do with the information you’ve gathered matters. Determine how to resolve the complaints and address the causes accordingly. This could require changes in processes, policies, product functionality, etc.

Communicate back. If you’ve gone to the effort to ask customers to complain and they’ve gone to the effort to complain, close the loop. Share key findings and which complaints you intend to address, when, and how. Once a complaint has been resolved, share this information as well.

Customer success and experience are vital to long term sustainable growth. Customer-centric companies employ a process for seeking out complaints and see this as an opportunity to challenge the status quo and improve business processes, products, and service quality. Such improvements can help you create competitive advantages and opportunities that reduce churn, eliminate break points, increase share of wallet, improve share of preference, and identify opportunities for growth.

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