What stops customers complaining?

If customer dissatisfaction is a fact of business life, how can you ensure disgruntled customers choose to tell you, rather than switching to a competitor and telling the world about their negative consumption experiences?

In a recent post, I argued that organisations should not fear negative word of mouth. It provides insight into customer (dis)satisfaction, it creates an opportunity to recover from an unpleasant consumption experience and it may help increase sales of your product (though, in specific circumstances, only).

Having said that, the best outcome for the firm is when customers choose to complain directly, rather than switching to a competitor or taking to social media to let the world know about their negative consumption experiences. Therefore, it is vital for organisations to develop a structure and create an environment where customers choose to voice their dissatisfaction directly. The first component of that structure is access. These are the three most common access barriers.

1. Complaining is an unpleasant experience in itself
Your customers are frustrated because they received the wrong product, because it took to long for that meal to arrive or because that gadget broke down, already. Why would they put themselves through the hassle of filling out a long and complicated form, calling an expensive number or waiting for the relevant manager to be available?

Dissatisfied customers will refrain from contacting the organisation if complaining is, frankly, a pain. Instead, you need to make it easy for the customer to reach you – ask them whether they are happy with their purchase, use feedback cards, subscribe to a customer feedback service (like Fizzback) etc… just make sure that you are asking the right questions, or the feedback received will be completely useless.

2. Customers don’t know how to complain
Customers need to have clarity about where and how to log their complaint.

The other day I needed to talk with Skype about a technical problem I was experiencing. I had to go through various menus before I could find an e-mail address I could write to directly. Very frustrating. Most options directed me to the FAQ pages, which were useful but not enough.

If you genuinely want to hear from your customers, you need to let them know how to reach you. Have the contact details clearly displayed in your website or product packaging. Also, make it really easy for customers to find the contacts to your customer support team via the search box in your website.

3. You are not providing suitable complaining channels
Not all consumption experiences are the same and, so, not all customers complain for the same reason. Dissatisfied customers may contact the organisation for one of two reasons: to get compensation or to vent frustration. Research shows that customers’ preferred channel to contact the organisation varies with the reason for complaining.

Customers seeking compensation prefer interactive channels such as face-to-face, telephone, web-chats or other forms of direct interaction between the customer and the company employee.

Conversely, customers who want to express their frustration prefer remote channels like letters, e-mail messages or feedback cards.

This means that it is important to provide a variety of channels to capture complaints.

In essence, unhappy customers will complain to the firm when the perceived benefit of doing so outweighs the costs. The cost may be tangible (e.g., the cost of a phone call) as well as intangible one (e.g., stress). So, the one simple question a firm should ask itself is: Is it easy for customers to reach out to us when something goes wrong?

What else stops you from complaining directly to a firm?

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