Customer complaints are the key to a successful business


Welcome back to Leader Talk! In episode 36, we had the pleasure of chatting with Angela Orsaris, Managing Director of The Market Intelligence Co., a leading industrial market intelligence and research company.

With close to 40 years of experience in market intelligence and market research, Angela has dedicated herself to helping build better businesses through research. 

In this chat, we spoke about how market research is a vital tool for business owners to understand more about the market they’re in, their competitors, and most importantly their employees and customers.

With technological advancements, Angela believes that any company can and should set up its own customer database to gain information and make improvements.

Want to learn more? You can read or listen to our chat with Angela on YouTubeSpotifyListen Notes, or Player FM. It’s also available anywhere you listen to your favourite podcasts via Buzzsprout.  

Authored by Angela Orsaris, Managing Director of The Market Intelligence Co.

At The Market Intelligence Co., I’ve seen first-hand what research can do for a business. Sure, research is great for understanding the market, your competitors and your brand positioning. However, I’ve found that the most valuable thing research can give you is an understanding of your customers and their experience with your business.

There’s a reason Jeff Bezos was known for leaving a seat empty to represent the customer in every Amazon meeting. Successful leaders today are absolutely obsessed with customer feedback. In fact, the large majority of companies with a customer-centric CEO are more profitable than competitors without. 

While we all love to hear positive customer feedback, every so often we receive feedback that is not so welcoming. It’s natural for people to not want to hear bad things about themselves. We especially don’t want to hear criticism about our business, something we put our blood, sweat and tears into. The truth is, you’re going to get bad customer feedback and complaints – it’s inevitable. 

Many people either let criticism eat them up inside or dismiss it as something not worth their time. You feel like you never want to talk to that customer again or you think, “good riddance – they’re not worth my time and resources anyway”. I’m here to tell you that, customer complaints are your best friend. You should be dealing with them and better yet, welcoming them with open arms. They are an opportunity to place your business ahead of the rest. 

It’s not about the complaint, it’s about what you do with it
According to research by Deloitte, companies that are customer-centric are 60% more profitable than companies that are not. While everyone knows communication with customers is important, what many forget is that communication is a two-way street. Talking to your customer regularly is not enough – you have to also listen to them regularly and take each experience into account for your operations. This is where customer research plays a valuable role. At The Market Intelligence Co., we learn every day from our clients about the different ways they use their customer research to their advantage.

We all know customers can be difficult to deal with at times, but only you can choose how you react. You might be indifferent or maybe at times a little defensive, but once you shift your mindset towards empathy, it makes a world of difference. 

Let’s think about it. Customer complaints are not complaints – they are cries for help. Research shows that 91% of unhappy customers won’t even bother to complain and will just leave. Well, these people are of no help to you. On the flip side, if someone makes the effort to complain about your service or product, that means they still care and are still a potential customer! A customer who complains is doing you a favour. They’ve given you the chance to improve your business and retain a customer.

When dealing with customer complaints, we often play the blame game. However, it’s not about whether it was a genuine error on your part or theirs. It’s about picturing yourself in the customer’s shoes, their experience at each touchpoint and addressing the concern at hand. More than 50% of customers who have their complaints resolved are willing to return to your business because of that. Think of how much business you save by rectifying the problem, compensating the customer or even just apologising. Half of the people who complain are satisfied after receiving an apology alone. Regardless of the solution, if you take the time to address customers’ complaints, you win their loyalty for life.

Turning complaints into opportunities
When running a business, something undesirable is bound to happen; you run out of stock or an order wasn’t dealt with properly. You dread having to deal with a dissatisfied customer. It’s understandable – staff are tired of being treated badly by customers and we avoid having to deliver bad news or bear the brunt of bad news itself. However, avoiding it is probably the worst thing you can do.

Studies have shown unhappy customers will speak negatively about you to at least 15 other people, which has lasting impacts on your reputation. The truth is you’re always going to have dissatisfied customers. It’s better for them to complain to you directly than to their friends. When you actually encourage your customers to complain directly to you, not only do they feel heard, they’re not going out and ruining your reputation. Instead, they’re giving you an opportunity to improve. In addition, just by giving customers a place to complain, whether via phone, website or in person, their intention to purchase rate jumps from 9% to 19%

At The Market Intelligence Co., we have something we call the ‘Red Flag Process’. This is when we give a customer experience survey to a customer on behalf of our client and the customer happens to be dissatisfied with the client. We, as the researchers, raise the ‘red flag’ – we tell the customer we understand why they’re upset and ask them if they want us to get the client to call them. Most say yes. We’ll call the client and say they have to get a senior employee to get back to this customer and rectify the complaint. When higher-ups solve the customer complaint themselves, the customer feels special, more cared for and therefore, is more willing to buy. 

So bring on the complaints. They’re a win, not even for your customer, but a win for you and your staff to gain loyalty and good business. Putting in the effort to make the customer experience better will give you the best return on investment (ROI). 

No matter the size of your business or what your deliverables are, it’s important to be constantly collecting information on customer satisfaction. This needs to come from an independent, objective perspective rather than an internal source within your business. Whether it’s a university student, a private consultant or a market researcher, you should be finding out the likelihood your customers will use your business again, if they will recommend you and how you can improve. 

The employee is the forgotten entity
In saying all this, employee research is actually very crucial for ensuring customer satisfaction. Employee satisfaction should be a business leader’s first priority. A joint study by Forbes and Salesforce has found that companies that focus on both customer experience and employee experience saw their revenues grow twice as fast as those that focus on just one or the other. It is, after all, the employees that are making or breaking the customer experience. 

You can have all these fantastic marketing and business plans, but all it takes is one dissatisfied employee to change your business’s whole position in the market. From what my team and I have seen in market and employee research we’ve done, this link does in fact exist – and it’s usually with a six-month lag. If there is a dip in employee engagement scores, we see that in six months, the customer engagement score dips as well. Then, depending on the industry and business, in six to twelve months’ time, you’ll see a dip in sales and market share. Everything is related. If employees see customers are happy (even if they are unhappy with their employer) they’ll score higher on job satisfaction. 

You, as the leader, have to find out whether or not your employees are engaged in the business and are satisfied with the job experience in order to find out how they are treating customers. Employment engagement surveys, like customer experience surveys, need to be independent, guarantee anonymity and are best done online. This way, the employees can feel confident in feeling a part of a collective, and so, will provide more honest feedback. 

Conducting primary research, from surveys and social media metrics to mystery shopping, will get you the information you need on your customer and employee experience. Third-party professional research companies, like The Market Intelligence Co., will bring more honest answers than sending your reps out and asking their customers and employees for feedback. If you don’t outsource your research, you’re not going to get objective feedback. Why? It’s human nature. People don’t want to say bad things about someone unless they are anonymous, and your employees probably don’t want to hear bad things about themselves and will hear what they want to hear.

The main takeaway is that no matter how hard we try, we’re always going to receive criticism. The good news is, that when people criticise you, it means they care. Whether the feedback is coming from your customers or employees, how you react to the feedback will make or break your business.

Open yourself up to empathy and learn about other people’s experiences. You never know the countless opportunities it might bring for you and your business’s growth.