Customer complaints are a valuable source of information. They let us know when a customer is unhappy so we can try to retain their business. Complaints can also serve as an early warning system that helps prevent service failures by allowing us to fix small problems before they become big ones.
A lack of complaints doesn’t mean things are going well.
Noted customer service expert, John Goodman, estimates that only 50 percent of customers will complain about a problem. (The actual number varies by industry, company, and product.) Of those complaints, Goodman estimates that 90 percent are directed to frontline employees. In a recent post, I discussed reasons why frontline employees don’t pass along those complaints to management.
What about the other 50 percent who don’t complain at all?
This is the really scary group. They silently take their business elsewhere or they tell everyone they know (except for you) about your poor service. The damage to your reputation and your bottom line could be well underway before you even know about it.
Here are five reasons why these customers might not be sharing their complaints with you.
#1: It’s too difficult
Most customers won’t bother complaining to your company if it’s too difficult. Or, they’ll just Tweet it.
I recently went online to register an LG television I had just purchased. Their registration link redirected me to the wrong page so I had to hunt around on the LG website for the correct page. This was a minor annoyance, but I’m an LG fan, so I decided to let them know.
First, I tried to email. If you want to email LG you have to fill in 14 required fields in their email contact form plus acknowledge that you’ve read and agree to their data protection policy. No thanks.
One of those Forsee website surveys popped up as I clicked out of the email form. I thought about giving that a try until I saw the survey. It consisted of 36 questions, 24 of which were required. Really?!
I just wanted to tell LG about a small problem on their website, but they made it too difficult to be worthwhile. I decided to Tweet the problem to LG instead. Their responsive Twitter folks quickly got the message and fixed the link, but my complaint was now public rather than private.
If you want your customers to complain, don’t make it so difficult that they feel like they’re being punished for trying to drop you a line.
#2: No confidence
Many customers don’t complain because they don’t think it will do any good.
Psychotherapist Guy Winch called these “self-defeating, self-fulfilling prophecies” in The Squeaky Wheel, his how-to guide for effective complaining. We don’t believe complaining will do any good so we don’t complain. Because we don’t complain, the problem doesn’t get fixed. Because the problem doesn’t get fixed, we continue to be angry with the company that’s responsible.
#3: Afraid of the outcome
Some customers don’t complain because they’re worried it will negatively impact an otherwise good relationship.
I learned about this one from my friend Lenore. She and her husband had received poor service at one of their favorite restaurants. They thought about complaining, but were worried that the owner would back his employee rather than see it their way. In the end, they chose to write off a new employee’s rude behavior as a one-time occurrence because they didn’t want a complaint to escalate to the point where they felt like they wouldn’t return.
#4: Fear of retribution
You won’t get many complaints if customers feel they’ll be penalized in some way.
Complaining customers have been treated rudely, denied service, or worse. It only takes one gross YouTube video to convince customers to never, ever, complain about their pizza. Patrons of Amy’s Baking Company Boutique & Bistro in Scottsdale, Arizona were recently subjected to a barrage of profane verbal assaults in what BuzzFeed called the most epic Facebook meltdown ever. In one extreme case, a San Francisco bookstore owner tracked down the writer of a negative Yelp review and went to his house where she allegedly assaulted him.
#5: Nothing to gain
Customers won’t complain because there’s nothing in it for them.
This is often the case with rude service. Customers aren’t trying to get a refund or have a defective product repaired. They simply feel slighted by a rude employee. Why take time to complain if they can just take their business somewhere else?
How can you encourage complaints?
Start by making complaining easy. Whittle down those 14 fields on your contact form to just three: name, email address, and message. Skip the never-ending surveys and stick with a few simple questions. Be available.
Next, encourage customers to complain. Make sure none of the obstacles detailed above are present. Ask them directly, “How was everything?” Actually give a damn about the answer.
Finally, take action. Prove to your customers that their complaint was worth their time. Resolve their issue. Thank customers for their feedback rather than lashing out or making excuses. After all, they’ve just helped you make your business better.