Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.’ Bill Gates

Have you ever wanted to complain online to a company only to find that complaints are not one of the fifteen options for selection. I tend to select customer query and then head the comments box with complaint. I don’t know about you but I worry without that word in there, they might not take me seriously. I get frustrated too that that there’s no obvious complaints process.

Back in the day I ran a lot of workshops focused on improving quality and service The McDonald’s mantra was QS & C – Quality, Service and Cleanliness – so you can imagine that we’d spend a fair bit of time making sure that franchisees and managers understood the concept.

Anyway, one of the ice breakers I would often use was to get everyone to come up with companies that they felt were synonymous with quality. 

Time and again, good old Marks and Spencer would be number one. But when we dug deeper into why they felt that M&S were top of the pile, the surprising thing was that it wasn’t about the quality of their products, but more about how they dealt with complaints or problems, and put things right. 

People loved the try, see and hassle free take-back; they loved the fact that there was a simple process to follow and that you always received an apology, when mistakes had been made. It was the M&S after-sales care that they rated as second to none. 

What M&S did to put things right back then, seemed to make people, not only forget the initial fault, but rate them even higher. 

I headed up McD’s Customer Services department for a couple of years, and if I learned one thing in my time there, it was that if you make it easy for people to get through to you, if you really listen with empathy to what they have to say, and if you then do something to put it right, your unhappy customer can become a loyal ‘customer for life’.

If it’s true that the average unhappy customer will tell 10 people about the poor service they received, then how much better for them to be telling you first, so that you can do something about it.

How many times have you been delighted by a way a business has sorted your problem – not many I bet – but when someone surprises you, and gets it right – don’t you feel great? Don’t you want to tell everyone about this complaint you’d made and how brilliantly it was dealt with?

A customer who tells you that they have a problem with your product or service

is giving you a chance to put it right, to put a smile on their face and keep their future business.

They’re giving you the opportunity to check your systems, to fix the fault or re-train an individual, to stop the problem from happening again.

Ultimately, they’re helping you to safeguard your reputation by telling you about their problem rather than their family, friends and neighbours, who may also be potential Customers.

As Bill Gates says, ‘Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.’

Your complaining customers are your very best friends – so why not treat them that way? 

Do one thing: Check out your complaints process, is it set out step by step on your website? How easy is it for your Customers to complain? Do you welcome complaints as an opportunity to improve your systems?