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Beware Of ‘The Complainers’!

by Colin Shaw on June 13, 2017

When we’re in the UK, I complain about the chilly, dreary weather. And when we’re at our home in Florida, my wife Lorraine complains about the dreadful heat. Our complaining is all in good fun – we actually enjoy both locales. But as this article explains, complaining can become a nasty habit that makes our lives seem worse than they really are.

Complaining can also affect your business. We witness it all the time in our customer experience consultancy. We see complainers among front-facing employees when we use customer mirrors to analyze the experience from the customer’s viewpoint. In management, we’ve seen how a complainer can prevent a company from following through with a customer experience initiative.

What Kind of Complainer are You?

Neuroscientists say that complaining can become habitual because our thoughts and feelings trigger thousands of neurons which then join in a network. Repetitive thinking causes us to trigger the same set of neurons each time. Like a well-trod path, these neural networks make it easier for us to repeat the same behaviors and thought patterns.

There are several types of complainers, according to Robin Kowalski, a psychology professor at Clemson University. You probably recognize them.

  • Venters like to complain but aren’t interested in your helpful solutions to their problems. It seems like complaining would get things off their chest, but instead it drains them emotionally, along with everyone they come in contact with.
  • Sympathy seekers always seem to think they have it worse than everyone else.
  • Chronic complainers think about their problems in a never-ending tape loop in their head, voicing the same complaints again and again. This kind of complaining traps the complainer in negative thinking and can cause even more worry and anxiety.

On a personal level, complaining too much is bad because it reinforces negative thoughts and makes people dread being around you. Your friends, family and co-workers want to be helpful and supportive but listening to the same complaints over and over grows old.

From a customer experience perspective, chronic complainers make it hard to create or advance a positive customer experience.

How Complaining Hurts Your CX – And What to Do About It

Have you ever been trapped in a store with a complaining salesperson? I was browsing in a shop a few weeks ago and ended up in an extended, one-sided discussion about the difficulty of competing with larger retailers and the owner’s personal health struggles. I couldn’t wait to get out of the store, and I have not been back. The owner’s complaints created a negative experience for me, and assuming I’m not alone, they are destroying her business.

Front-facing employees who complain do more than turn off customers with their bellyaching. Left unchecked, they can create a work environment where everyonecomplains. This instills an attitude of “my job sucks” that saps employee morale and motivation. When a business is full of apathetic or unhappy workers, customers notice.

Higher up the ranks, venters see that there are problems in the company, but won’t explore solutions. Sympathy seekers and chronic complainers may be too wrapped up in their own troubles to engineer change. When executives aren’t open to changes that could improve the customer experience, they miss an opportunity to build value for the company. We see this from time to time in our consultancy – we are hired to make recommendations but senior management is sometimes stuck on the problems, not the solutions. As a result, proponents of change grow frustrated, nothing changes, and morale declines.

If you think you might be a bit of a complainer, the article offers some suggestions for short-circuiting those tendencies.

  • Recognize when you are complaining. Notice your behavior, stop the complaint, and give yourself a pat on the back for being more aware.
  • Practice gratitude. When you are in a bad situation, take a moment to think about something good. It is hot outside, but I am thankful I have air conditioning. It is hard to complain and be grateful at the same time.
  • Make a point to appreciate good things. The same neural connections that can perpetuate negative thinking can also reinforce positive thoughts.

Everyone complains sometimes. But if you pay attention, you may just re-wire your brain for positive thinking.

Has complaining affected your business and personal life? Share your comments in the box below.

Read our ebook, Unlocking The Hidden Customer Experience, to discover how companies have successfully used their customer complaints and feedback to change and improve their customer experience.

Unlocking The Hidden Customer Experience (The Complainers)

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Colin Shaw is the founder and CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s leading Customer experience consultancy & training organizations. Colin is an international author of six bestselling books and an engaging keynote speaker.

Follow Colin Shaw on Twitter @ColinShaw_CX

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