Why Too Many Organizations Do Not Take Customer Complaints Seriously
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Why Too Many Organizations Do Not Take Customer Complaints Seriously
Home 5 Blogs 5 Why Too Many Organizations Do Not Take Customer Complaints Seriously

As you might know, my podcast does an “I’m in a Pickle” feature where business people send in their business problems with customer strategy for our consult. I wanted to share this one with all of you because I realize many of you might have the same pickle.

Today’s pickle is sent in from Christine Jones. Christine writes, “Our organization does not take complaints or our Voice of the Customer program seriously. So, what can we do now?”

I know how she feels. When I was back in corporate life, my role was to improve the Customer Experience. We undertook this customer survey every year, and then ignored it—every year. Sure, we’d have a conversation about the survey results, including complaints, but we never did anything about what the survey told us.

It drove me mad.

When I complained that we didn’t use the survey results to do anything, someone suggested that we stop doing the survey. If I hadn’t known he was serious, I might have laughed. As it was, I couldn’t believe we were having this conversation.

Unfortunately, this feeling of checking a box with customer feedback and then ignoring results is a significant part of the corporate culture. My podcast partner recalls working at a grocery store and seeing a suggestion box on the wall that he was pretty sure no one had a key to anymore.

There are so many serious points that come out of Christine’s pickle, but ultimately it comes down to this: is this the right company for you?

When I experienced that same situation, I realized the company and I were at opposite ends of the scale when it came to improving our Customer Experience, so maybe this wasn’t the company for me.

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Ignoring the Voice of Customer is a sign of an unhealthy corporate culture. So, if you can’t fix the problem, it may be time to look elsewhere.

Figure Out the Why Before You Try the What

So, why are they like that? If I reflect on the organization I was with, they were like that because the company was the dominant player, in a position a smidge below a monopoly of the market. A lack of customer-centricity goes hand-in-hand with monopolies. On the other hand, commoditized markets are forced into customer centricity because the market is so much more dynamic and variable than a monopoly.

However, just because you’re in a dominant position doesn’t mean you will stay there. Ignoring the Voice of Customer and the experience you deliver creates long-term vulnerabilities.

In the early days of our global Customer Experience consultancy, we worked with a water company in the UK, which is highly regulated but has a monopoly in their area. I asked the CEO why he hired us if he didn’t have any competition to best, and he said, “We want to employ the best people, and the best people will want to come to the best company.” I always considered it a visionary statement that belies a healthy company culture, where employee and customer experiences are valued.

What to Do If You Stay

However, let’s assume that Christine would like to stay. What can we do to help her turn things around?

My second book was Revolutionize Your Customer Experience (Palgrave MacMillan, 2005), about customer-centricity. This content is an excellent background for our advice in this area.

As I mentioned, Christine should figure out why they do not take the Voice of Customer seriously. The main reason is they don’t think it’s essential. So, Christine’s first order of business is to make it essential to them. For me, the answer to this is in measurement .

I talk about measurement and why it is essential to customer strategy programs. That’s because what gets measured gets done. However, I would amend that to say, what gets paid for on those measures gets done even faster.

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For example, if people’s pay were tied 100 percent to the results of resolving customer complaints and listening to the Voice of Customer, it would get done without a doubt. However, that is hyperbolic, and I am not suggesting that Christine do something like that. It should cause enough pain to the organization’s leadership that the senior team notices and realizes the company should do something about it.

Next, you need a champion. Prioritizing customer centricity might be beyond someone like Christine’s power to change, which means she needs allies higher up in the organization. (Our podcast, 5 Rules for Engaging with Senior Executives , might help here.)These allies are who decide where to allocate resources. While tying compensation is an effective way to motivate people, it is not the only way. A culture that celebrates employees that solve customers’ problems and tells their stories to others is also effective—and that culture comes from the top. So, take the time to make your case to the senior team, educating them on the benefits to the organization (read: $$$$) that making this a priority will produce.

Recognize the Impediments to Change

Christine should also recognize the psychology at work here, specifically Confirmation Bias and Reference Points. You might remember that Confirmation Bias is how we look for things that confirm our worldview. Reference Points are what we use to compare things.

So, if Confirmation Bias is working against Christine, the senior team will read the Voice of Customer feedback and attribute it to what they think it means and what they think causes it, even if they are wrong. So, senior management will be less likely to make the necessary changes with this psychology.

With Reference Points working against her, senior management will compare themselves to everyone else in the space. If they are all bad, the complaints will not seem so important. After all, your organization might be the best in a bad area or, at the very least, only as bad as everyone else.

The flip side of overcoming these psychological obstacles for Christine is that this situation presents plenty of opportunities. First, an enormous upside exists to getting this experience right for people. Even a slight improvement in an industry that is terrible across the board might make a significant difference in the results. Moreover, like the visionary British water company CEO said, the improvement to the culture and the pride people would take in working for what customers consider the best company will make a world of difference in recruitment and training costs.

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It is also essential to understand that change is difficult. When companies hear customer complaints, they might choose to downplay their importance because the challenge of changing business as usual seems too daunting to undertake. They know that these problems cause pain for customers and the employees that work with them, but that is nothing compared to the pain everyone would feel from overhauling things to fixing the problem.

Moreover, Christine should see that she is the agitator for change. Most of us want things to stay the same and be where we’re comfortable, and have things figured out. Somebody that wants us all to change will be unpopular.

It’s only when we recognize that we have to change because the businesses around us are changing, and if we don’t keep up, we’re going to fall behind and fail that we are willing to take on that pain. That’s when Christine’s plan will get more traction.

Practical Steps to Take to Get Organizations to Take Customer Complains Seriously

  1. Educate your organization. We have a lot of resources that can help, like this newsletter or our podcast. Another education would be to have them deal with customer complaints or even listen to the Voice of the customer. The critical aspect here is getting them exposed to the customer who has got real-life situations,
  2. Work with one area. Early wins help you build momentum, but it takes some strategy. I recommend putting all of the resources into one problem area that gets a lot of complaints. Then, track customer satisfaction scores and revenue to show that your customer strategy works. Then, you can use those results in customer satisfaction and revenue to convince the team to allocate more resources to improve other areas about which customers complain.
  3. Don’t butt heads with the haters. There will be people who are not on board with your plan. Don’t waste all your energy fighting them or trying to convince them. Instead, focus your efforts on supporting those that want to work with you, get some proof it works, and then move into the areas where you have more resistance.
  4. Present your evidence. If you can find other sources that share examples of where listening to the Voice of Customer turned things around for an organization, present them to the powers that be. Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, and Businessweek are great places to start your search. Then, when someone questions the validity of your programs, you can cite (reliable) sources. Or do the opposite, and find some serious fails in the area. (Like the United Breaks Guitars music video.) Those might be even more compelling resources.

Listen, if you’re a monopolist, you don’t have to worry about this as much. Customers can complain all they want; you are the only game in town. However, companies that don’t have to worry about complaints or Voice of Customer are shrinking. So if you are one of these companies in the majority, the ones that have plenty of competition, you should address customer complaints and listen to the voices of your customers before it’s too late—and they use their voices to decry you to everyone know.

Maybe you have a different pickle with your customer strategy? If so, tell us about it at We can feature you on the podcast and help you, too.

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There you have it. No promotions, no gimmicks, just good information. 

Think reading is for chumps? Try my podcast, The Intuitive Customer instead. We explore the many reasons why customers do what they do—and what you should do about it. Subscribe today right here.