Dealing with customer complaints is an accepted part of the job, but it is often the least enjoyable. Customer complaints are a company’s most valuable asset and a wonderful tool to initiate change or improvement within the organization. Once businesses start to see complaints in a positive light, the opportunities for financial growth and brand management are endless. Too many businesses make the mistake of believing that very few customer complaints are indicative of overall customer satisfaction. This type of complacency is a huge trap to fall into and leads to failure. If your clients aren’t complaining directly to you, you can bet they’re complaining to their friends and acquaintances. In the best case scenario, they’ll quietly decide to not use your business again; but in the worst, they’ll post their views online.

The advent of the internet age has made the world a small place and social networking has made it possible for people to express their views on a massive scale. In the case of online reviews, it’s even worse because potential customers have actively sought out information about your company online. Just one negative review is enough to undo all your hard work – not to mention your budget – in marketing and brand reputation. Conversely, a satisfied customer is likely to share their positive experience both with friends and sometimes with strangers online. They are also more likely to become loyal customers and unofficial (and unpaid) brand ambassadors. If you need statistics to convince you that silence isn’t golden, take a look at these:

  • Only 4% of unhappy customers complain (Source: “Understanding Customers” by Ruby Newell-Legner).
  • According to full-service consulting firm Lee Resources Inc, for every customer who complains, there are 26 others who remain silent. 91% of those silent customers will not willingly do business with you again.
  • In their 2011 survey, American Express found that 3 in 5 Americans would rather try a new brand or company for a better service experience.
  • Roughly 80% of tweets about Customer service on Twitter are negative in nature and they are viewed by over one million people (Source: Touch Agency).

Consider the 96% of people not directly complaining about your products and services in person, but venting on social media and public forums to millions of people. This can have an enormously detrimental impact on your business if you don’t tackle it head on and take a proactive approach to social media. It is vital to monitor your company’s mentions on social media and engage in damage control before the issue escalates. The good news is that despite 91% of unhappy customers being unwilling to do business with you again if you resolve a complaint in their favor, 70% will remain a customer (Lee Resources Inc). This demonstrates customers’ appreciation of efforts to resolve their complaint and their willingness to reward you with their loyalty.

By investing heavily in measuring customer satisfaction over time and responding to customer complaints as soon as they appear, you can prevent most of the negative outcomes described above. Invest in internal processes for dealing with complaints and fix them in a timely manner. Losing even a single customer can be a costly mistake that might have been avoided. If you make it easy for customers to give feedback and inform you of the problems they are having, they will appreciate the open dialogue and trust your intentions more readily than if you ignore them or get defensive. How can you improve the customer experience:

  • Encourage feedback and make it clear and simple for customers to make a complaint.
  • Appoint one member of staff to take responsibility and represent the company as the customer’s primary point of contact. Never unnecessarily pass the customer or problem around.
  • Listen to the customer and ensure your customer support employees use the appropriate attitude, tone and body language in all communications.
  • Follow up with the customer.
  • Make the complaint process simple and don’t use complicated phone systems since they often lead to frustrating delays.
  • Acknowledge the problem in a constructive way rather than denying any problem exists, even if it is a rare or unusual occurrence.

It’s critical for companies to turn a complaint into a positive so that the customer and the company can move forward. Manage your brand on social media channels so you can respond to customer complaints before they escalate. It might take time and extra effort to sift through all the feedback, but it will be money and hours well spent.

There are a number of reasons why customers don’t complain: some people don’t like to make a fuss, others have had bad experiences of complaining in the past, some just don’t have time for it, and most just think it’s too much effort. Above all, customers don’t believe that complaining will change anything. People associate complaints with negative feelings because past experiences have left them feeling like a nuisance or ignored. Companies will do much better if they see complaints as positive and make an effort to be proactive rather than reactive. They should thank customers for trying to help them improve and they could even do this with actions rather than words. For example, some companies give rewards like prize draws or special discounts for filling in questionnaires. To make the feedback inviting for the customer and more actionable for the company, yes/no questions should be avoided in favor of specific details. For example, “How could we have improved our service today?” encourages a more honest and thoughtful response that makes the customer feel valued while helping the company improve.

Customer loyalty is higher after a complaint has been successfully resolved and, in that situation, the customer is likely to recommend you to other people. Although a complaint costs money to deal with, it also saves money in the long-term because retaining customers is much more cost-effective than trying to attract new customers. Furthermore, if a company listens to feedback and improves their business by eliminating issues, future complaints will be reduced, thereby saving the company money.A change in attitude to complaints is all that’s needed to help companies grow. All good businesses know that the best shortcut to success is keeping existing customers happy since new customers are comparatively expensive and difficult to find. Listening to their complaints makes them happy, but finding ways to deliver more value to them transforms them from satisfied customers into brand advocates. These unpaid brand advocates can help you gain new customers through sharing their opinions about your exceptional product or services. Silence is misleading: an unhappy customer can do irreparable damage to your company if they choose to post their opinions online. If you want your business to grow, you need to proactively seek out and deal with every unhappy customer.