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Growing Grumbles: Why You Should Encourage Customers to Complain

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Emotion = Engagement

Your product or service is not perfect. Thank goodness. Aside from the fact that you would have nothing to challenge you to improve, you also might discover that people have no reason to create a relationship with you. Without a relationship, you’ll have no customers.

Not so fast…this is not a recommendation to do something wrong in order to make it right. But there’s a nugget of wisdom that can be extracted from the thought process. If you want to cultivate customers and transform them into advocates, you first have to provide them with the opportunity to call you out on the carpet. 

Not like the old days

Gone are the times when brand name companies were always in our minds—thanks to marketing—but only real to us when we could hold their product in our hands. Usually, that was because these companies were located far away. We could fit their product or service into our worldview, but not the companies themselves. They were sort of like the Tooth Fairy.

Social media shrank the world. It transformed the companies behind the brands from conceptual to contactable. Suddenly, the idea of reaching out to a company to tell them of a less-than-desirable experience with their product or service went from seeming like a misplaced use of time and effort to something as easy to do as tapping out a Tweet.

The smart companies moved quickly to align with this paradigm shift. The smartest of them all also realized that social media hasn’t modified human psychological behavior. It just gave complainers a louder megaphone. They took advantage of the cultivation of complaints.

Such a downer

Sure, we’d prefer to hear praise. If we’re doing things right, we should expect that our product or service is generating more pleasant experiences than negative ones. Sorry, but “Bad is stronger than good,” says social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister.” Bad feedback he explains, has more impact than good feedback. Why?

Clifford Nass, who is a communication professor at Stanford University, says it’s because, “Negative emotions generally involve more thinking, and the information is processed more thoroughly than positive ones.”

Let’s consider for a moment what these two professors are telling us.

  • A negative experience has a stronger impact.
  • When people have a negative experience, they tend to sift through the information more thoroughly—give it more thought.

These sound like people we should be talking to. Now, let’s throw a few more elements into this: 

  • A McKinsey report indicates that 70% of buying experiences are based on how the customer feels they are being treated.
  • A Genesys Global Survey says that the most requested improvement from customers is “better human service.”
  • An American Express Survey showed that Americans tell an average of 9 people about good experiences, but they will tell 16 people about poor experiences.
  • And finally, Touch, a digital advertising agency, tells us that about 80% of the tweets on Twitter about customer service are critical or negative in nature.

Woo hoo for boo hoo

Here’s the thing about complainers. You might not like what they have to say—because it’s, well, negative—but you simply can’t argue that these people are highly engaged with your product or service. You don’t have to guess. They’ve come forward to tell you that they’ve used it, and they’ve thought it through. 

How often do you have the opportunity to communicate with customers that have taken a proactive step to reach out to you? These people are worth their weight in gold. They are rare. A study by Ruby Newell-Legner says that we hear from only 4% of our dissatisfied customers. The study also found that an astounding 91% of customers who are dissatisfied but don’t complain simply go away and never come back.

What happens, then, if you are able to find a way to resolve the negative issue customer has with your product or service? According to a study by the White House Office of Consumer Affairs, the single customer who bothered to complain to you represents at least 26 customers who feel the same way but will say nothing at all. 

Transforming a complaint into a compliment is the new Holy Grail for customer service. It turns out that this tiny 4% of our customer base bothering to step forward and offer up their gripes actually speaks for an impressive silent majority. But, here’s something even more important about them. They’re also quick and generous with online praise when a company resolves the problem. 

What happens if you don’t make a major effort to encourage customers to tell you what they don’t like about your product or service? Nothing happens.

You do want to hear from satisfied customers. But, keep in mind that they’re happy—and what’s more—they expect you to make them happy. So, you just aren’t going to get much input from them. On the other hand, if you encourage the tiny percentage of dissatisfied customers who actually take the time to tell you what they think you’re doing wrong, you’re rectifying the complaints of the iceberg they’re sitting on while they grumble.

Strange times we live in. Bad news is good news. At least when it comes to customer satisfaction.