What does your complaints-handling procedure look like?

Not the one in your corporate handbook. The real one. The one that’s embedded in your culture, passed through the ranks, overheard in the office and talked about over an after-work beer.

If it involves a lot of groaning, tutting, rolling of eyes and a raft of avoidance tactics, it’s definitely time for a rethink. Because you’re missing out of one of the greatest customer profitability tools you have to hand – and it’s free. It all starts with a little positivity. There’s a great saying that goes; ‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.’ And it’s this positive outlook that can change those bitter and ever-souring complaints into sweet customer relationships.

The hidden resource

It’s true that ‘you can’t please all the people all the time’, so it often feels simpler to mutter those words and sweep any negativity under the carpet, as quickly as possible. But customer complaints are the most valuable, free resource you have to hand – and one that’s vastly overlooked as a business profitability tool. Which is a shame, because they’re a goldmine of raw, direct customer feedback and system stress-points.

Every one of them has the potential to transform from ‘ouch’ to ‘happiness opportunity’. Instead of looking at complaints as unpleasant obstacles, with the right attitude, the right communication and the right complaints-handling strategy, you can turn them into open gateways – improving customer relationships, expanding brand engagement, demonstrating value, showing authenticity and proving that you’re a business made up of real people, not mindless robots controlled by ‘company procedure’.

“When customers share their story, they’re not just sharing pain points. They’re actually teaching you how to make your product, service and business better.” Kristin Smaby, ‘Being Human is Good Business’

Start by turning lemons into loyalty

There are two top reasons for losing a customer:

  • They feel they’ve been poorly treated.
  • You didn’t solve their problem in a satisfactory and timely manner.

A complaining customer isn’t lost business… yet. But it’s your first warning flag. Think about it. Your unhappy customer could have just walked away without a word. Instead, they’ve come to you and shared their problem – looking to you for help. What they’re actually doing, is handing you the prime opportunity to prove how good you are at doing business. One on one, up close and personal – allowing you the chance to demonstrate exactly what you think of customers and how much value you place on them. And it really is worth taking them up on the offer. Why?

Because customers whose complaints have been handled successfully, go on to be ten times more loyal than non-complaining customers, are 70% more likely to do business with you again and will be absolutely singing your praises to everyone who’ll listen – friends, family, colleagues, social networking platforms. And right there in front of you, from a successfully handled complaint, is a whole heap of untapped business. From just one customer.

But so what if you lose a customer? You’ve got loads of them, right? One down doesn’t make a difference really… Well actually, it does. It hits you right in the profits. Because at the very least, it’ll cost you six times more to attract a replacement customer, than it would to make your unhappy one, happy again. And we don’t need to talk about the financial and brand costs of a good old ‘Little Customer vs Big Nasty Company’ social media roasting.

Happiness is an inside job

And it really doesn’t take much. By listening to niggles, however big or small, by focusing on customer happiness, by helping your teams deal with complaints better, by acting like a people-centered business and by being open to new ways of making your business better, for everyone, you’ll be rewarded with something money can’t buy – loyal customers that openly and actively become advocates for your business.

Oh, and a free and willing resource that can shape the success of your business. So before you sign-off the next big-budget ad campaign – the one that’s full of shiny hopes and dreams for your not-yet-maybe-never customers – it might be worth thinking about investing the same care, attention and energy into starting a culture that sees complaints as a positive thing.  Your customer teams will thank you for making their days easier and more pleasant, your customers will loyally love you for being real, and you’ll probably find that your shareholders get rather excited too.

After all, with just a little bit of care and something special, the sourest of lemons make the sweetest, and most profitable, lemonade.

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