Normally – when I tell company leaders that they should be looking for more complaints, not fewer – I see shocked looks on their faces. It’s a look with which I am well acquainted. Some will say, “Wait a minute. We want fewer complaints, not more.”

At first glance, fewer complaints seem desirable. But when managers begin to think about the potential loss of non-complaining customers, they begin to see that more feedback is better than no feedback.

The formula is quite simple: When you dissatisfy your customers, don’t give them what they want, or cause problems for them – they can tell you about it and give you a chance to fix the situation. If you use this opportunity wisely, they might stay with you. Or, you can discourage their complaints so situations that can be fixed are never brought to your attention. With no complaints, a manager might conclude that all is well with the world as far what they hear from their customers. After all, no one complained.

Some organizations actually set up reward policies so that managers of branch operations who get the fewest complaints get monetary rewards. I’ve experienced this in hotels all over the world. If I walk up to the front desk and say, “I have a complaint form that I filled out and would like you to give it to your manager,” I’m thanked for completing the feedback form, but when walking away, I have seen them tear up the form I just completed. I know what’s going on in organizations like that. The managers have announced in irritation that they are sick and tired of getting so many complaints, and their staff has learned not to pass along complaints to their managers. In these situations, it’s quite likely that corporate offices have set up reward systems to grant bonuses to those managers whose complaints numbers are low.

Anyone who has read even a few articles on customer service knows that the majority of dissatisfied customers don’t complain. As many as two-thirds of unhappy customers don’t report their dissatisfaction, and the third that do speak up mostly complain to someone who is not going to pass the information up the line. It’s one thing to discourage complaints; it’s another to get them and then not have them given to the senior person who ultimately has responsibility for getting and retaining customers.

Imagine a hypothetical situation in your own organization: One of your customers has had something happen that, by any measure, would be an irritant. Suppose someone on your staff did not tell the customer to bring specific information with them for their appointment. So, when they arrived, the customer didn’t have essential information needed for their meeting.

From your company’s point of view, it would be helpful to know how often this happens. There is no way to fix this if no one knows about it. A simple checklist used by staff when they confirm reservations would make it more likely that they could remind the client what they need to bring with them. If this “small issue” isn’t fixed, then several booked appointments will not be kept and customers will walk away dissatisfied – perhaps even blaming themselves for not bringing the required information.

The customer may think that they complained because they said something to the receptionist who asked when they arrived for their appointment. The critical questions are whether the receptionist tells an analyst, or whether the senior manager knows why the customer left without staying for their appointment. There’s a good chance the receptionist will not tell anyone. The appointment is simply cancelled and the people who really need to know about internal communication processes do not learn they have a big gap that is potentially costing them customers.
It is certainly to the company’s advantage to create a complaint-friendly environment that welcomes customer complaints by everyone who hears about them. How can an organization do this?
Here are a few approaches a team of people can take to make sure complaints are communicated to someone in the company who can do something about them.

Get your team together and ask them to brainstorm ways to get customers to voice their complaints. Make sure your employees know how to handle complaints if any are expressed. Tell them to “thank” customers before they start fixing problems or asking any other questions. And make sure customers know you want to help them. Let your team know that your purpose in hearing about complaints is not so you can attack a team member, but rather so you can fix these situations. Any service provider, upon completing a meeting with a customer, could tell that customer how very
useful feedback is to them – and that your company wants to offer the best service, so you need to know when that doesn’t happen. That way, you give the customer a chance to speak up about anything that might have happened that makes them less likely to be a strong and loyal customer. We all know how much effort it takes to get new clients. And we certainly don’t want to run the risk of losing them by not fixing complaints