Yes, people complain: Should you try to get more of them?


Resource-blogJanelle Barlow, PhD, Co-author, A Complaint Is a Gift (Berrett-Koehler, 2008),

When customers suffer financial losses — according to recent research about retail service experiences — they are the most likely to complain. About 50 to 75% of them will speak up — depending on the size of the financial loss. Coming in much lower are complaints about product quality, inconvenience, and incompetence. Again, depending on the severity of the problem, customers will complain somewhere between 5 to 30%.

Interesting figures. And figures that make me nervous.

It seems as if customers are pretty good at taking care of their needs when they think that money is unfairly coming out of their pockets. One thing all the years of research reveals is that if such complaints about financial loses are handled quickly and well, most consumers will feel  inclined to return to such a place of business.

So, when you advertise the lowest prices in town, and your customer finds out they could have bought the same product someplace else for a  lower price — make up the difference to them. Fix their feelings of financial loss.

It is the second set of stats (5 to 30%) that cause me genuine concern. If, I experience incompetence, such as misleading sales advice, this factor will no doubt influence my decision whether to return to this retail store. But the question is whether I’d be in that 5 to 30% group of people who will speak up. Chances are it would take a lot of incompetence or a lot of inconvenience to get me to say anything.

CostCo and its liberal exchange policies is a good case in point. They make it easy to complain about product quality. I recently bought a book at CostCo, intending to give it as a birthday gift to a good friend. The printing process left it with pages stuck together in the middle of the book. I didn’t discover this binding problem until I was at home. The birthday party was that night and CostCo had already closed for the evening. So, I stopped off at Barnes and Noble and picked up the same book. When I returned the book to CostCo and explained what happened, they not only reimbursed me for the book, but for the additional price I had to pay at Barnes and Noble. I love CostCo!

Businesses have to figure out how to get more of these dissatisfied customers to speak up. Because if they do, then the business has a chance to keep them as customers.

What are your customers complaining about? Do you track this information? Is it about money, financial loss? If you want to keep that customer, fix that problem immediately and they’ll probably be grateful and return to you.

If your customers tend to complain more when financial loss occurs, then this is a good time to ask about any other issues they might have experienced. If we cause quality problems, inconvenience, and display our incompetence to our retail customers — and here is the big “if” — if we do something about those types of issues, then we’ll no doubt impact loyalty.

Most customers don’t want to leave a retail store where they have been shopping. But they will if we don’t work at keeping them.  Don’t be afraid of feedback. It will feed your customers back to you!