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June 16, 2010
Why a complaint is really a gift
At first blush, a complaining customer is not something we have on our wish list of awesome things in the world.
But this type of customer contact provides a great opportunity to do something remarkable that will build loyalty and word of mouth. Research shows this to be true. Customer experience research firm TARP finds that customers who complain and are satisfied are up to 8% more loyal than if they had no problem at all (PDF).
My experience with Adagio Teas is a great example of this principle. I recently lost the little plastic disk that sits under its IngenuiTEA pot. (Seriously, this teapot for loose leaf tea is super cool. Check out this video.) I couldn't find a replacement disk on their site and emailed them asking why I couldn't buy one. They said there was no way to buy one and that the disk was a nice to have but optional piece of the teapot. I pressed again saying that I prefer to have the disk and how could I get one of them. They offered to send me one for free. Nice! When I received their package, there were two disks plus a sample set of teas and a nice handwritten note.
This was my first interaction with the company as I had received the teapot as a gift. What started out as a complaint about not being able to buy the disk turned out to be an experience worth blogging about. Adagio went above and beyond sending the one disk, and created a more loyal customer who is impressed with their service. That's worth talking about.
BONUS READING: For more on this topic, see Janelle Barlow and Claus Moller's book "A Complaint is a Gift: Recovering Customer Loyalty When Things Go Wrong"
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Jackie - I love this post. Scott Cook (Intuit founder) always use to tell us that customer feedback is a gift. It really is - especially if you do something about it.
This is such a great reminder for all businesses. Your customers do not require perfection and every option available. They only require humility and a willingness to do the special things, like this instance, to let you know they appreciate you. This is a perfect example.
You are exactly right! Thanks for pointing this out. This is one of those little (or not so little) "secrets" of success. In fact, it has been found that there is one principle of business, which, if followed by employees and executives alike, will determine a company's income and guarantee expansion. There is no reason under the sun that companies, whether large or small, cannot deliver excellent customer service, and flourish and prosper as a result. I believe that all one needs are the right tools, and I found them in a book entitled, Breaking the Code: The Mysteries of Modern Management Unlocked.
I often tell clients how to leverage a complaint through social engagement and turn the experience into a positive exchange, as well as consider it in terms of R&D or customer support feedback, but I've never pointed out how it was a "gift in disguise". Great post and now I'm eager to read Barlow and Moller's book! Thanks for sharing.
What a great outcome! I think it’s so easy for businesses to either take complaints personally or to be defensive when customers reach out to complain. Generally, if a customer is reaching out, she cares enough about the product she bought or the service she received to have the company help her make it right.
Many complaining customers can be converted to loyal customers for life. More importantly, the company can use the information provided in the complaint to make things better for all of their customers. In this case, for example, offering the plastic disk for sale.
Thanks for the great story.
Heather | @heatherjstrout
P.S. I’m also a big fan of a good pot of tea.
I love this blog post. I've seen baristas take complaints really defensively - And I'm sure that happens in every business (not just baristas) and complaints are really such a great opportunity. The same quality that makes a person complain is the trait that will make them rave about the company to friends when they're happy! Your post is right on the money!
Great article, Jackie.
You make a great point about customer relations and business. My company, Pear Analytics, is an SEO consulting firm. We get calls from our customers about using our Page Analysis product. Instead of logging into their account and doing it ourselves, we take time explaining the process to them and showing them how exactly it works, which they appreciate. Because we spent time explaining the process to the customer when they asked, we actually were able to enhance our product. It is now more than ever user-friendly and it was all thanks to our customers! :)
I invite your readers to sign up for our beta release of our re-enginnered free SEO analysis tool and look forward to any feedback.
So many times I hear small business owners complain about not getting referrals or not having any business. The example you provided is case in point about why you need to treat each and every customer interaction as an opportunity to blow expectations out of the water. While it's unfortunate you had to ask twice for the disk, in the end, the tea company did what was right and blew your expectations (you initially contacted them simply to buy a disk) out of the water. Big companies can't get this personal. But as small business owners we can. So seize the opportunity each and every time you interact with a customer.
While I am impressed by this great story, I’d like to raise a caution flag. Businesses should be leery of hanging their hat on exceptional complaint handling. The reason I say this is statistically, very few customers actually complain (especially about poor service). Statistically speaking for every complaint a business receives, another 24 unsatisfied customers never call. (Edward Lowe Foundation)
Companies need to reach out and proactively contact customers to make sure they satisfied and then handle each complaint as well as Adagio Teas did in your story.
Hey Jackie! I agree with what you just said, customers will always be loyal to the company if they are served well. I think that what happened to you is an example of how the customer is an aid for the company's development. I think that it is important for the company to take action in the complains that they receive. It is also a good thing for you to share your experience, since the issue that you had may become a problem of another customer.At least they know that the there are still companies who are still capable of helping in return.
Wow - what a nice surprise it must have been! Complaints should be treated as gifts indeed.
However, when a business meets a customer who keeps complaining and is never satisfied no matter what is done, it needs to ascertain whether the customer is worth keeping.
And if not, how to deal with "pain-in-the-neck" customers: http://www.upyourservice.com/learning-library/customer-service-recovery/pain-in-the-neck-customers
This is sure a new way to look at customer complaints. Seeing them as a sort of feedback will help any businessman know the grey areas.
With the power switching to consumer more, complaint is great resource for companies to do better. Consumer is telling something and we shouldn't pass the chance of making them our influencer. T-mobiles tv commercial " America we listened" and Dominos pizza's tv commercial is some example of this. This also gives new prospective into customer complaints.
Complaints, when handled correctly, can sometimes be blessings in disguise for companies. A customer who has complained, and had their complaint handled in an efficient manner is a much better marketing tool than a regular satisfied customer.
Over many years working in relationship marketing and observing best practices, I developed 5 relationship marketing principles. The fifth principle is, “The second most crucial time is when the relationship is at risk.”
Your experience underlines why marketers need to use every opportunity that arises to build relationship equity, to add value beyond functional benefits so, in the face of the next shiny thing, your customers return to your product or brand or service.
Wow this is a great example of how customer care and respect for a user of their product results in invaluable wordofmouth for this company. Reminds us that being open and responsive is good for everyone.
Thanks for your thoughtful post. Complaints are yet another way for businesses to actually interact with customers. How many forget this! Rackspace Managed Hosting (disclaimer: based in San Antonio and a company I admire) realized most tech companies avoided actually speaking to customers or providing 24/7 customer support. They turned this model on its head and now pride themselves on "Fanatical Support." And it's working. Graham Weston and team are thought-leaders with something that should have been commonplace.
I also admire Time Warner's help desk on Twitter - they tweet each night when they're closing shop for the day. Sets customer expectations that they won't answer questions/complaints via twitter 24/7, but they will return!
I think that considering complaints a gift is a great viewpoint for an organization to take. I always disliked losing a client and never knowing why. It would be much better to be upfront with any issues so that they can be addressed. Even regular client meetings don't necessarily uncover some unspoken client complaints. Fast forward to today where social media has put brands into the spotlight.
I myself take complaints as advice or a heads up to sort out an issue which hazs been missed. that way at least hopefully only one person or customer/ client has noticed it.
Hello Jackie and everybody!
I really enjoy reading your blog - here in germany. This last post now leads me to participating.
We, at our university (TU Braunschweig) started dealing with complaints about two years ago. And we are using a blog for students' complaints. It is called "Sag's uns" - in english "Tell us"... https://sagsuns.tu-braunschweig.de/
Students are free to tell us their problems - but we try to provide an atmosphere of "solving problems together - with ideas".
It works perfectly well - students complain, provide ideas, the president and all members of the university contribute, we realize good solutions together. We didn't have a single message that we had to delete, although there is almost no login or something - no problems.
And: "Sag's uns" leads to a much better identification of the students with their university. I'm sure such a blog-like system would work in business environments as well.
If someone is interested - contact us!
It is really nice to hear about a good customer service experience! They seem to not happen as often these days as they used to. One thing I always like to do is ask clients if there is anything that I can do better? Of course this can open up a can of people asking me for free stuff or other requests that I cannot meet, but I am always looking to improve on what is being offered. I like to think of it as self checking and customers or clients are happy to share their thoughts. Many business owners these days however, take every comment as an insult instead of taking them positively and that can hurt business in the long run.
yours was not a complaint, it was a question about a product you couldn't find.
A complaint (and the typical complaint complaints departments everywhere get) would have been having the customer kicking and screaming that their product failed 5 years after the warranty expired and the dealer refused to provide them with a warranty repair or replacement.
Nice response from the company.
Have you purchase any of their product since then?
Are you planning to purchase more tea after the sample runs out?
Thanks for sharing your candid response.
Excellent example that is right on the money. Complaints open the door for improvement. Companies that pay attention tend to succeed. As this article (http://www.upyourservice.com/learning-library/customer-service-recovery/turning-provocation-into-pleasure) points out, recovery from complaints can put a company on better footing in the future.