Free Customer Service Article

The Upside of Customer Complaints

By Dean Lindsay – Author of The Progress Challenge

 “A customer who complains is my best friend.” — Stew Leonard

It’s interesting to consider that when someone chooses to become our customer, they WANT to be loyal.  They want us to rock their world.  They want the relationship to last.  They see us as Progress.  They don’t want to change.  They choose us. 
 So, why do they sometimes leave or choose to work with others? 
How do they decide that moving to some other supplier is Progress?
 The above question is tough to answer since research shows that, on average, 24 out of 25 customers will make their switch without telling the business of their dissatisfaction.  No news is NOT good news.  It is dangerous to think that customer silence is a good thing when it is overwhelmingly the quiet customers – clients, guests – who just leave.
What are some reasons you stopped doing business with a particular company? 
Did you tell the company about your dissatisfaction?  If so, how was it received?
Complaining is tough on everyone, including the complainer.  There is an element of risk to relaying dissatisfaction as a customer. We don’t want to come off as a complainer. 
Instead of coming out and sharing a concern, it is quite common as customers to let our concerns and dislikes build up to the point that we feel it would be easier to leave than attempt to fix all that’s wrong. 
Often customers choose not to complain when there is a problem because they – often rightly – feel that it won’t do any good to complain.  They don’t trust how the complaint will be received.  “No one is going to do anything about it anyway.”  Maybe, they think the company is too big to care or believe their concerns will fall on deaf, uncaring, possibly even rude ears. 
Ponder & Progress
If a customer shares a ‘complaint,’ what should they expect in return? 
As a customer, what would you expect?
 So again, why do customers leave?
 As the research suggests, most of the time we don’t know.  Only one 1 in 25 is willing to inform a business about their dissatisfaction and enlighten the business about possible needed modifications.
 And most often, how is  this 1 in 25 treated? 
How much attention and respect do their concerns get?
How are you treated as a customer when you ‘complain’? 
 We know customer complaints are to be minimized.  We also know that rarely are they totally eliminated.  We also know they are no fun to listen to.  In fact – and it may be embarrassing to admit – but sometimes we wish the complaining customer would just go away.  I did say “sometimes.”
 There is a powerful upside to customer complaints however.  Customer complaints are one of the most inexpensive, available, useful and yet ignored forms of customer market data.  Truly proactive and insightful companies see a customer ‘complaint’ as a proven way to gain valuable insight into possible needed improvements (not just as a demand to repair damage).

 “Mistakes are the portals of discovery.” 

— James Joyce

That complaining difficult customer that we sometimes wish would just go away is extremely valuable.  Often customers know our weaknesses better than we do because they feel the effects of our weaknesses. 
 Wouldn’t we rather have our customers tell us what they need instead of telling our competitor?
 We should be careful what we sometimes wish for:  That complaining customer will eventually go away — along with their business, their buzz, four to five positive referrals and their valuable insight into how to make our companies better.  View a complaint as an opportunity for improvement, an opportunity to progress.

“Your best teacher is your last mistake.”  -Ralph Nader

Ponder & Progress
What are some examples of how your organization has benefited from customer feedback?
 Be Progress.

Dean Lindsay is the author of The Progress Challenge: Working and Winning in a World of Change.  You can get more info on Dean and sign up for his free monthly newsletter at: (You are welcome to repost this article as long as links and this brief bio are included.  Thank you.)

Free Customer Service Article – The Upside of Customer Complaints