A Complaint is a Gift

A Complaint is a GiftIn their book, A Complaint is a Gift: Recovering Customer Loyalty When Things Go Wrong, authors Janelle Barlow and Claus Moller discuss the inadequacies of customer service and the customer service departments at most companies.

The book begins with a quote from Confucius that sums up the mistake companies make when they do not listen to their customer complaints:

A person who commits a mistake and doesn’t correct it is committing another mistake.

Let’s face facts. Mistakes happen in companies, and people complain.  But, we have to treat their complaints as gifts, listen to them, be responsive and speedily fix the mistakes.  Or else somebody else will be servicing that customer.

Ten highlights from the book serve as good reminders for all of us:

  1. Complaints really are gifts.
    1. They open our eyes to the customer’s experience
    2. They gave us a second chance to make things right
    3. They help us to improve our processes and customer interactions
  2. We need to think positively about the complainers
    1. “Those who say something about the short comings of your product or service want you to do better.   The others want you to fail.”  Jim Norton
  3. Most customers will not complain
    1. The customer does not feel that the company will do anything about the issue
    2. It is often too difficult to lodge a complaint
      1. Thus, we need to make it easy for the customer to complain in the way they want: on-line, by letter, and especially over the phone
  4. A lack of complainers does not mean that everything is OK
    1. It is estimated that for every one person who complains, 27 others just seethe and put up with it.  Then, they either quietly leave and go to our competitors, or they lash out on line
  5. We need to welcome our customer’s complaints
    1. “Customers may moan and groan – seemingly unfairly – but their messages are vital information to any business.”
  6. The authors outline the “Eight-Step Gift Formula”, a step by step process to respond to and resolve customer complaints
    1. Say, “Thank You”
      1. “Thank you for calling to tell us about…”
    2. Explain why we appreciate the feedback
      1. “Thank you.  I’m happy you told me so I can fix this for you.”
    3. Apologize for the Mistake
      1. “I apologize.  I am very sorry that this happened.”
      2. Importantly, in any apology use “I” (shows that you take ownership) not “we” (too vague)
    4. Promise to do something about the problem immediately.  Take responsibility.
      1. “I promise that I will do my best to fix this situation as soon as possible.”
      2. “Let me see what I can do to take care of this.”
    5. Ask for the needed information.
      1. “In order for me to give you fast service, could you please give me some information.”
    6. Correct the mistake (fix the problem) – immediately
      1. Do what you said you would do
      2. Do it quickly and get back quickly with a follow up if the problem cannot be immediately resolved
    7. Check to be sure the customer is satisfied
      1. “I am just following up to ensure that your problem was completely resolved.”
    8. Prevent future mistakes
      1. Listen to what the mistake says about our company.  Then, take action to fix the process.
      2. “We can say we’re listening, but it’s not until we take action that things really start happening.”
  7. Create scripts (as above) and role play within our companies until we are satisfied that our team can professionally fulfill all parts of the Eight-Step Gift Formula.
  8. Handling angry customers
    1. Simply hear them out by listening intently
    2. Don’t interrupt
    3. Use the Eight Step Gift Formula
      1. Realizing that people usually only get angry when something is important to them
      2. Use a bit more empathy
        1. “I’m very sorry that you are so upset.”
      3. And a touch of personal connectivity
        1. “I would have certainly felt as you do had that happened to me.”
  9. With E-Mail and written complaints, respond promptly and personally
    1. Avoid form letter responses always!!
    2. Picking up the phone to call the customer can work wonders
    3. Use a 7 step sequence
      1. Thank the customer
      2. Let the customer know what we have done
      3. Acknowledge the customer’s point of view
        1. Do not be the company with the epitaph which reads:
          1. “Here lies a company that won every argument with its customers – and went bankrupt.”
      4. Personalize our reply
      5. Be simple and specific
      6. Exceed the customer’s expectations (with speed and what we did)
      7. Check that the customer is satisfied
  10. Be effective complainers ourselves
    1. Be clear what we’re dissatisfied about
    2. Be polite
    3. Be specific and realistic
    4. Describe the cost to us and what we expect
    5. Make constructive suggestions
    6. Thank the person for his or her help
    7. Give the organization another chance

Written in 2008, A Complaint is a Gift has stood the test of time with solid advice and reminders on how to improve customer service and respond to customer complaints.

It is worthwhile to read A Complaint is a Gift.


About David Shedd

David has been a President - CEO - COO of an up to $350M group of manufacturing, distribution, specialty retail and services companies, having led 22 different businesses from turnarounds to start-ups to fast growth companies.
This entry was posted in Improve / Turnaround, Perform / Execution, Sales and Marketing and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to A Complaint is a Gift

  1. Greg Griffin says:

    Thank you for taking the time to type this up, David! I just read the book and I was going to type up a few of these highlights myself, but you saved me some time. I’m printing this out along with the 4 quadrant “Creating Customer Loyalty” box from page 55 (2008, 2nd edition). Have a great day!

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