Treat Your (on-line) Complaints like Gifts

In a previous post (see my post, Losing Sales Through Poor Retail Service: Major Hidden Costs, May 26, 2013), I explained how I had a less-than-satisfactory experience when attempting to purchase a pair of trousers. I was ready to buy, but the shops did not have my size. There was not attempt to show initiative to address the issue. Good service should convert to sales. But in this case, poor service resulted in no sale.

I decided to follow-up with the company (a well-known international brand) to send them some feedback. Before I share with you what happened, let me introduce you to the A Complaint is a Gift philosophy.

Dr Janelle Barlow, the President of our TMI US office, was the driving force behind a new philosophy towards customer complaints. Her book, co-author with Claus Moller, the founder of TMI, popularised, the concept of A Complaint is a Gift.

The complaint is a gift philosophy is simple – complaining customers are giving us gifts of opportunities and ideas to improve. We should value this feedback, and welcome it with open arms, just as we would do with gifts that we receive for our birthdays.

The book first came out in 1996 – and the concept is just as fresh today as it was back then.

Now, back to my trousers story…

I decided to contact the company to give them feedback. I went to their website and clicked on a tab which said, “Contact Us”. This led me to a section where I could give my feedback.

“This company is interested in customer feedback,” I thought to myself.

I write very polite and diplomatic “feedback” emails. I explained what happened, asked them when they would get my size in stock, and referred them to my blog post. I left my contact details.

I invested my time to give this company the gift of feedback – including an opportunity to retrieve the sale AND an opportunity to improve their service.

The classic statistics will tell you that I am one of a minority – only 4% of dis-satisfied customers will tell the company. And 90% will tell others about their bad experience.

So, if this was your company, and someone sent you a gift through your “Contact Us” section of their website, what would you do? How would you react to the feedback?

And so, this is what happened.


My reward for investing my time in this “free” gift to this company has been…silence.

Let’s analyse this – starting with the customer perspective.

The customer (ie George) gave a gift. It was ignored.

The first impact is that the customer feels, at best, ignored, but, more likely, disrespected. There has been no acknowledgement of his efforts.

This customer was one of the 4% who give the company feedback. And, now that he has been ignored, he will shift his focus, fuelled by a feeling of disrespect. He will now start telling other people about his bad experience

And guess what? My friends will believe me much more than they will believe the spiel that the marketing people from this company try to deliver. In short, not treating my feedback as a gift can result in an erosion of the company’s brand image.

And then this has a negative multiplier effect. People talk. Imagine that there are 100 Georges who have similar experiences – and you will see how the negative message multiplies very quickly.

One more lesson: Quickly acknowledge all feedback received.

It may be that this company received my feedback, and is taking action to rectify.

But I don’t know about this.

So, the food for thought is simple. Train everyone in your organisation – whether customer-facing, or on-line, to receive complaints as gifts. These gifts can give your organisation ideas on how to improve.

And, when you receive a complaint, make sure that you acknowledge it quickly – and then let the customer know what you are doing with that feedback.

The payback for doing this well will translate to your bottom line and to your brand image. And, the cruel fact of life is that if you don’t treat your complaints as gifts, news will spread…and this will eventually be reflected in your financial results and in your brand image. And, you will lose valuable opportunities to improve.

Until next time…

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