Loving customers who complain the most

Discussion
Jun 03, 2015

In my early days as a young account executive at an agency, a mentor taught me to value clients he called "screamers." Loudly voiced objections demanded a response, he said, and if done properly would lead to a stronger relationship. The big concern, he added, are quiet clients who one day announce they are going with another firm without explaining why. The same lesson applies to retailers, and new consumer research reinforces the point.

According to a March 2015 study conducted by LoyaltyOne and Verde Group with Dr. Deborah Small, professor of marketing and psychology at the Wharton School, nearly half of consumers reported having a problem on their last shopping trip. Eighty-one percent made the decision not to bring the problem to the attention of the merchant and roughly one-third of those said they were unlikely to recommend the retailer to family and friends.

The study also found that customers who brought problems to the attention of retailers and had them resolved were 84 percent less likely to reduce the amount they spent with the merchant.

Customer complaints

Photo: RetailWire

Interestingly, the survey found that the biggest spenders in given retail businesses were the ones most likely to experience problems. Big spenders at mass merchandisers were 23 percent more likely to be upset by the amount of time spent on checkout lines. The chief complaint among important department store shoppers is getting the "it’s not my department" brush-off from sales associates.

The findings of LoyaltyOne and Verde Group research point to the need for retailers to develop the type of relationships with consumers in which they make merchants aware of ongoing problems. The billion dollar plus question is just how they go about doing that.

What do retailers need to do differently to get customers to speak up and let them know about problems they experience during their shopping trips? Which retailers in your experience seem most interested in hearing complaints from customers?

Braintrust
"Retailers need to make it easy to complain. In addition, complaints must be addressed and responded to in a timely fashion. The alternative to complaining to retailers is to grumble, that is, tell everyone but the retailer about the disappointing experience."
"I’m not a "screamer" as defined by George but yesterday I did let a few associates at Target know my frustration with continual out-of-stocks on an organic facial item."
"First and foremost know the difference between a constructive "screamer" and someone who is unhappy with life itself and simply "screams" in a non-productive way. Teach your employees, and in particular your customer service teams, to listen, ask, probe, and teach them how to arrive at a productive conclusion or solution if and when it’s a real possibility to do so."

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16 Comments on "Loving customers who complain the most"

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Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

The answers from yesterday’s discussion regarding addressing customer complaints is also relevant to this topic. Basically, listen to the customer and resolve their issue.

If customers know that a retailer is willing to listen to their issue and then address it they are more likely to bring them up. This takes time, as retailers have to educate their staff on how to work with customers and show customers they will act on a complaint.

Once a retailer gains the reputation of doing this more customer will be willing to share their concerns. The process can be sped up by instituting various measure to communicate to customers that the retailer wants to hear from them.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
BrainTrust

Retailers need to make it easy to complain. In addition, complaints must be addressed and responded to in a timely fashion. The alternative to complaining to retailers is to grumble, that is, tell everyone but the retailer about the disappointing experience.

Social media makes grumbling easy. In my recent research on Millennials I found that one in five Millennials uses social media to complain about faulty products or bad service. Retailers need to develop systems and accompanying communications with customers that encourage one-on-one complaints versus mass distributions of grumbles.

Far and away, Amazon, not surprisingly, is the most responsive to consumer complaints.

Anne Howe
BrainTrust

I’m not a “screamer” as defined by George but yesterday I did let a few associates at Target know my frustration with continual out-of-stocks on an organic facial item. I specifically plan a trip to Target to buy this item, and it’s rarely in stock. This time I specifically asked them to go in the back and find it. No luck.

I then mentioned that this is why people default to Amazon. To my surprise, they found me in the store later and offered me a gift card to cover the cost of the item ($15) and told me it would be arriving in the store on Thursday.

I’m happy they did that, but still nervous it won’t be there when I go. But this is the type of effort that will keep Target ahead of other retailers in my mind. They cared enough to find me in the store and offer to cover the cost of the purchase. The effort becomes a story of the fact that someone really cared about my little dilemma and my feelings.

Kelly Tackett
BrainTrust
First, the retailer has to have some credibility for actually giving a damn — that sounds harsh, but you know what I’m talking about. Everyone has experienced retailers where you are talking to the sales associate and you can see everything is in one ear and out the other. Or where the canned, “did you find everything you were looking for,” is just that — a canned script. That being said, the discussion immediately brings to mind two retailers that have embraced customers complaints in order to improve the mix and be more inclusive of all shoppers. The first is Target, which solicited feedback from its most vocal critics about its efforts in plus-sized apparel for its latest launch. And what’s great is that Target didn’t work with them to shut them up. I think I still saw that the bloggers weren’t completely happy with the amount of plus-sized clothing available for one of the designer collaborations. Separately, Eloquii actually hired one of its customers who it saw was returning substantial amounts of its products when the plus-sized label was owned by The Limited. I believe the customer is working with Eloquii as director of marketing, where she has shared expertise and… Read more »
Max Goldberg
BrainTrust

Putting a URL at the bottom of a sales receipt and offering a prize for comments is not going to motivate many consumers to voice concerns. Nor will, “Find everything all right?” at the registers upon checkout. Retailers need to train their sales associates and managers to interact with consumers so that valuable information can be obtained. They should be looking for complaints and compliments, what’s working and what’s not. That involves offering to help, asking questions and listening for answers. It means adopting an attitude of compassion and concern. Nordstrom, Costco and Trader Joe’s all do this, and they’ve developed reputations for outstanding customer service.

David Biernbaum
BrainTrust

First and foremost know the difference between a constructive “screamer” and someone who is unhappy with life itself and simply “screams” in a non-productive way.

Teach your employees, and in particular your customer service teams, to listen, ask, probe, and teach them how to arrive at a productive conclusion or solution if and when it’s a real possibility to do so. Appreciate and follow up often with the constructive “screamer” and make her or him an ally, a friend and an adviser. Reward her or him for doing so. That consumer will “scream” in a very positive way on your behalf to the silent majority that does no screaming but often listens.

In other words, discover your productive “screamers” and aim to resolve their issues and please them, and turn them into people who advocate you by word of mouth, social media and to whomever they come in contact with.

But once again, choose your “screamers” selectively. Not every “screamer” is a positive investment. And not every customer is productive or profitable for your brand, or your company. It’s true.

Mel Kleiman
BrainTrust

Usually simple is best. Just ask the customers. Here are two ideas on how to keep it simple.

  1. Change the question and get better information. Ask customers on a scale of zero to 10 their experience was today. Find out the number and see why they gave you the number and what it would take to get to the next, higher number.
  2. I saw a little device called Happy Or Not, which has four faces on it from smiley to very sad. It goes next to the exit of a retailer, or you could put it next to a specific department, with a simple statement on it: HAPPY OR NOT. You can also put a specific question on it: “How was the check out today?” or just “How did we do today?”

What I like about it is that it provides immediate feedback to employees and management. You get to see which button is lit up. Customers feel they are getting to voice their level of satisfaction.

Ed Rosenbaum
BrainTrust

I am not sure retail employees below the manager position really care. Too many of them are there for the paycheck. Those who do care will someday reach the manager position. There is where it has to be focused. Managers have to instill in all the employees the need to listen intently to a customer and try to help them. They have to be empowered, which they are not. Give them the power to act like the store is theirs, ala Zappos and The Container Store. Then changes will begin to happen.

Marie haines
Guest
Marie haines
2 years 4 months ago

I firmly believe that if you don’t ask, you don’t get. That being said I always respond to customer service surveys online and contact a company if I have had a very good or very bad experience in-store or online. Even if nothing comes of it at least you have made an attempt to correct a bad situation.

I shop the natural foods area of my local grocer. At this particular store the staff had gotten into the habit of parking carts and skids of product waiting to be shelved in the aisles of this department, making it nearly impossible to navigate the aisle. I finally went online and sent a complaint on the corporate website and the next time I shopped the store the aisles were clear. So apparently someone read my email and took action.

I think consumers are so used to poor service and response from store staff that they feel it’s not worth complaining. If customers don’t provide feedback a retailer is going to assume all is good. So speak up and get your voice heard.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

Yup — the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s apathy. A silent disgruntled customer isn’t a customer for long.

The most basic thing is to ask at check-out or before is if the shopper has found everything they’re looking for, or if they need help with anything. The most important thing is to respond empathetically to anything they voice and look to find the resolution they want or a resolution they will accept.

Additionally a customer service counter that is a customer happiness counter and not just a return/inventory check point, where staff are empowered to make decisions that don’t fit the manual, would go a long way.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

The best way to find out what your customer thinks is to ask them! Mass surveying of customers doesn’t always get to the individual who the retailer needs to hear from. Part of the sales person’s job might be to pick up a phone and make a call to get feedback.

Car dealerships are fixated on survey results, especially the luxury brands. I admit to disliking lengthy surveys, but they do what they can to get feedback.

Enterprise Rent-A-Car is famous for their extremely short (less than a minute) phone surveys that used NPS.

It seems that the larger chains are better at surveying customers than the boutique or smaller retailers. However the smaller retailers have the advantage of a more personal connection.

Li McClelland
Guest
Li McClelland
2 years 4 months ago

“What do retailers need to do differently to get customers to speak up and let them know about problems they experience during their shopping trips?”

They can have a manager or official ombudsperson patrol the aisles and offer help/take notes—instead of having a bored and harried cashier with ten people standing in line ask the person who is checking out, “did you find everything OK, today”?

James Tenser
BrainTrust
To the great embarrassment of my ever-patient wife, I must confess that I have been known to conduct customer service “experiments” at establishments all across the country. Several of these turned out so memorably that they now possess monikers, like, “Texarkana Cole Slaw” and the “Tennessee Flip-Card Incident.” I’m not a screamer exactly, but I definitely believe that a mistake unmentioned can never be improved. So I speak up, and try to take a kind and informative tone with the customer-facing people that I sometimes make squirm. Retailers would do well to encourage constructive feedback from patrons, even when it points out flaws in the customer experience. I agree strongly with others here who propose abandoning canned scripts in favor of asking shoppers open-ended questions, like, “How’d it go for you today? Is there anything else you need from me (us)?” The academics have done some pretty impressive studies over the years about how the successful remediation of service failures can lead to enhanced and enduring customer loyalty. This is not a new idea, but in my opinion it is essential. Excellent retailers want to learn about problems as they occur and they empower customer-facing associated to fix them on… Read more »
Grace Kim
Guest
Grace Kim
2 years 4 months ago

Retailers who demonstrate that they clearly LISTEN to their customers will naturally, organically see their customers engaging about their shopping experience or customer service experience. Customers, in general, who are loyal to the brand would want to share how the retailer could do better. I do it all the time with airlines and hotels to which I am loyal.

Similarly, retailers should not ignore complaints or customers seeking assistance on social channels as they are public and amplified. Nothing is more frustrating than asking for help and it seemingly falling on deaf ears!

Brian Numainville
BrainTrust

A well-executed feedback tool, such as a those incorporating an invitation on register receipts, provides an easy way for customers to start a dialogue with a retailer. Tens of thousands of customers have provided valuable input to our retail clients this way. But this is only the start—once the feedback arrives, the good and the bad, there has to be a commitment to doing something about it and responding directly to the customer. Once the store manager connects with the customer and resolves the issue, the results can be transformational and can create a customer for life. But if all you do is roll up the numbers and never address the concerns of the specific customers providing their gift of feedback, it is a total missed opportunity.

Bill Hanifin
BrainTrust

The poll question begs for a response to “how interested should retailers be in hearing complaints from customers?”

The answer? VERY!

If training of store associates can teach that complaints are not just crabby attacks against a store or person, but actually a person wanting to express his/her opinion, then progress can be made.

Though complaints aren’t fun to handle all the time, I would much rather know where I stand than suffer the mysteries of the passive-aggressive customer type, which as the article states, tend to have the highest attrition rates…and the most unpredictable.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Retailers need to make it easy to complain. In addition, complaints must be addressed and responded to in a timely fashion. The alternative to complaining to retailers is to grumble, that is, tell everyone but the retailer about the disappointing experience."
"I’m not a "screamer" as defined by George but yesterday I did let a few associates at Target know my frustration with continual out-of-stocks on an organic facial item."
"First and foremost know the difference between a constructive "screamer" and someone who is unhappy with life itself and simply "screams" in a non-productive way. Teach your employees, and in particular your customer service teams, to listen, ask, probe, and teach them how to arrive at a productive conclusion or solution if and when it’s a real possibility to do so."

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