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Customer Complaints Are Good
By Steven Howard, Howard Marketing Services

One of the worst things customers can do when faced with unsatisfactory service or a poor quality product is not to tell you and leave for the competition.

As sure as there are customers for your product, you can be guaranteed that there will be complaints about your products and services.


Is it impossible for an organization to deliver 100% customer satisfaction and 100% fault-free products and services all the time? In a simple word: yes.

I have yet to come across an organization that doesn't make the occasional mistake, or the employee who doesn't commit the odd accidental error or who simply is in a grumpy mood that is reflected onto customers.

So face it - complaints will happen.

And this is good. For complaints are good for you.

One of the worst things customers can do when faced with unsatisfactory service or a poor quality product is not to tell you and leave for the competition. After all, if you don't hear of the problems that cause customers to take their business elsewhere, how can you fix them?

Customer complaints are good for they:

  • Highlight areas that need improvement
  • Identify procedures that cause customer pain
  • Reveal information that is lacking, or erroneous, in your communications
  • Identify staff who need more training or closer supervision
  • Provide a check on consistency levels
  • Surface policies that may be outdated
  • Trigger positive change (if you take the initiative to act on the complaints)
  • Raise staff morale (through positive change)
  • Provide a method of competitive intelligence
  • Provide bench marking from other industries
  • Identify customers who care

That last point is a critical one to ponder. Customers who complain are customers who care!

Sure, customers who complain often want some form of restitution for the inconveniences suffered. But most just want the organization to live up to the promises made, which ought to be the key objective of the selling organization anyway.

While they care about themselves and having their own satisfaction levels fulfilled, they also care enough about future engagements with the organization to want to help the organization live up to future commitments.

Otherwise, they will simply just walk away and take their business elsewhere (after demanding a refund of whatever money has already been spent on the unsatisfactory product or service).

Alternatively, they may decide to remain silent, robbing you of the opportunity to make amends, or to take their complaints public, attempting to do your organization more harm than what they perceive have been done to them.

Dissatisfied customers or clients have five options:

  1. remain silent
  2. complain to you
  3. complain to friends, colleagues, and anybody else who will listen
  4. complain to a legal or public agency
  5. set up their own "anti-your" web site

Which of these five choices would be best for you? Definitely the second one.

You certainly don't want them to complain to a legal or public agency, or to the media, as this will cost you tremendous time and effort to resolve, not to mention the bad publicity and the risk of losing additional business.

The same goes for the third option, as again this will impact your potential business from their circle of friends.

The fifth option is one that numerous upset customers around the world are opting for. For instance, the "American Express Sucks" web site at and encourages consumers to "leave home without it." This site was rated one of the five best consumer hate sites by, along with disgruntled customer sites for Allstate Insurance, Microsoft, PayPal, and United Airlines.

Forbes estimates that there are "hundreds, if not thousands" of such corporate complaint web sites on the Internet, all started by dissatisfied customers. While this phenomenon is currently prevalent only in the United States, might it be another North American trend that will soon find its way to other parts of the world?

Whether they are loyal customers, upset customers, wronged customers, disappointed customers, angry customers, right customers, or even wrong customers --- customers who complain directly to you do care. (Okay, maybe not all, but certainly most.)

If your staff's attitudes can be shifted so that they collectively and individually view complainers as customers who care, then your organization is in a much better position to learn from such complaints and to implement restorative steps that result in retrieval of departing and departed customers.

Unfortunately, too many organizations treat customer complaints as "sore points" that need to be counted, rectified, and forgotten as soon as the service staff moves on to the next complaining customer. This is why too much of "customer service" these days is reactionary and process driven, with managers and service staff monitored and measured in terms of efficiencies, quickness of response, and the number of complaints "handled" per shift, day, week, or month.

When complaints are handled and tacked this way, true organizational learning and the opportunity to turn complaints into new levels of customer satisfaction through positive change are usually lost. Forever. Or at least until an enlightened new manager takes over the so-called customer service unit.

Lastly, it is important to remember that all complainers have one of two things in common - they are all customers or prospects.

Service recovery starts with the way you handle complaints and complainers, a topic that we will discuss in next month's article.

Until then, remember that complaints are good. And that, for the most part, people who complain are customers who truly care about your future. Or at least your future with them as your customers.

Steven Howard is Asia's leading marketing consultant and positioning specialist, with over 22 years experience. The author of two books and numerous articles, you may reach him at or

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