Monday, April 22, 2024

No complaints about complaining customers

We should strive to understand customers who complain, because the feedback they bring can be powerful for a business.

John-Paul Drake

By Drakes Director John-Paul Drake.

I love customer complaints.

It’s true. In this day and age, it’s hard to keep all your customers, suppliers, team members, the media, even your own partner, happy 100% of the time. To be an exceptional retailer you need to make sure you’re listening to the most important people in your business: your customers.

These days customers have many touchpoints with us, by design. They can contact us via phone, email or through social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, even through the old-fashioned face-to-face conversation.

Only one in 25 people who are unhappy about some aspect of a business will complain directly to that business, which means there are 24 people out there who are  unhappy but who won’t let that business know what they’ve done wrong, and instead may stop dealing with them, go to another business or, worst of all, tell other people about their experience. However, that one person who has taken the time to provide you with feedback is more valuable than the 24 people who’ve been disappointed with your offer but not told you about it.

There have been so many examples over the past few months of people not being happy with what we’re doing, or not doing, during the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve received our fair share of complaints from customers: those saying there aren’t enough protective measures in-store; those dissatisfied with the cleaning measures we’ve put in place; those frustrated at the lack of stock due to nationwide shortages – (cough) toilet paper (cough), for example.

It takes a huge degree of humility to take on board this criticism. I’ll be honest in saying it’s not always easy to read about your weak points. But I understand that the customer has given me the feedback for a reason, and this feedback can be powerful. It can change the trajectory of our business, so it’s for this reason we respond to every single complaint that comes through. It’s why I love receiving complaints.

My tips in dealing with complaints:

  • In most cases people complaining are emotional and not rational. Don’t take the complaint personally, but treat it as if it’s personal. Then do what you need to do to fix it.
  • People complaining want to be understood and accepted. You need to listen, listen, listen! You have two ears and one mouth for a reason: you should listen twice as much as you speak. Most importantly, you need to make sure the other person knows you’re listening. Repeat the complaint back to the customer to show that you understand, then take appropriate steps to rectify the situation. Which brings us to:
  • Tactical empathy. Consider the words the customer is using, the tone of those words and the body language. Recognise their perspective and make sure you vocalise that recognition.
  • Don’t try to defeat your counterpart. Strive to understand the customer. Complaints are not about winners and losers. If the customer loses, then so do we.

It’s human nature to want to be heard and understood. Whether the complainant is right or wrong, it’s imperative we strive to understand, not to win.

I’m pretty sure most people have complained about a business in one way or another. If you’re one of those people, I’m interested to know whether you’ve chosen to tell lots of people, but not the business itself, about the problem you have with it. Or have you done the right thing and gone straight to the source? I’d be keen to hear your thoughts. Hit me up on the platforms below.

LinkedIn: @johnpauldrake

Facebook: @JPDrakeAU


YouTube: jp drake

Instagram: @shake.and.drake

Podcast: /DucksDontGetColdFeet

About John-Paul Drake

John-Paul Drake has retail in the blood. Starting out as the trolley boy and shelf stacker 30 years ago in the family business, his passion for retail is firmly solidified as the Director of Drakes Supermarkets. He’s a staunch supporter of supporting local and is not afraid to call it as he sees it. 

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