Customer complaints: make the most of low-hanging fruit

19 July 2019 Tenaka

Businesses often express that, though they know the importance of understanding what their customers think and do, they don’t have the budget for research. To those businesses, I say… well I say a lot of things, but some of them shouldn’t be published.

Among the things I say is: okay, I hear you – you have budget constraints and a million deserving ways to spend, but if you won’t do research, at least make use of the data that is ever-so-considerately landing on your proverbial doorstep regularly, just begging to be used.

Ask anyone: there are two occasions for which we give unsolicited customer feedback to a business (or to the world on social media):

  • Really great experiences
  • Terrible experiences


Of the two, the latter gets more airtime. As a business, we can bemoan this negative criticism of the way we do things, or we can choose a winning perspective and find huge value in it: this is an opportunity to up our game, win back that customer’s affections and possibly get a few more people interested. And this is data given freely by a customer who has taken the time to tell us about it, which means either that they love sharing their opinions or they genuinely want our business to succeed. Either way, the value for us is the same: a golden mango, dangling in front of our faces, waiting to be plucked and eaten so that it can nourish us.

Here’s how to start finding value in the free data your complaining customers are offering:

  1. Get a team together: Your team should encompass a range of skills and mindsets and should be made up, ideally, of people from different departments, including at least one or two customer-facing employees – they are the most likely to understand your customers
  2. Gather the complaints: Whether you get complaints in writing or verbally, on the phone, by email or by some other feedback system you’ve implemented, find a way to bring everything into one place, in one format, so that you can easily sort through them
  3. Sort your data: Organise the complaints into manageable groups so that you can see what the most common issues are, then write out some themes that come up a lot
  4. Look for meaning: Try to go beyond what people are saying to find insights – what they really mean, what they feel, what is important to them, how the problem is getting in the way of what they are trying to do
  5. Come up with some solutions and try them: When you are satisfied that you have understood as best you can the real issues, brainstorm some solutions with your team, choose a few that excite you or that you think might have legs, and test them. There’s no right or wrong solution, and the quicker you try one, the quicker you’ll know whether it works or not, and whether you should scrap it or develop it.

Now that you know exactly what to do with them, stop hating on those complaints and turn them into delicious mangoes!

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