What Are Customer Complaints? | A Complaint Is a Gift Book Cover

What Are Customer Complaints? They’re Gifts

I mentioned authors Janelle Barlow and Claus Moller in a post a few weeks back entitled The Nicest Customer Service Complaint of All. Barlow and Moller are the authors of the popular customer service book called A Complaint Is A Gift.

In some ways, the title says it all.

A Complaint Is a Gift flips the traditional approach to complaints, viewing them not as hassles but as gifts that organizations should welcome. As the authors point out, our organizations can gain from complaints in many ways, including understanding what is important to our customers and getting ideas for improvements or new products/services.

This is a concept I absolutely love!

What Are Customer Complaints?

In the book, the authors offer this explanation:

“In simplest terms, complaints are statements about expectations that have not been met. They are also, and perhaps more importantly, opportunities for an organization to reconnect with customers by fixing a service or product breakdown. In this way, complaints are gifts customer give to businesses. Everyone will benefit from carefully opening these packages and seeing what is inside.” *

Sure, Adam, that sounds great in a blog post, but let’s be real, complaints… well, they suck.

And that is the essence of the challenge.

Inherent in most complaints is the accusation that either our organization or, more often, the person representing our organization, has failed the customer. No one likes to be told they are not doing a good job, and the natural tendency is to view complaints from an unreceptive and even distrusting frame.

However, how an organization views complaints is a fairly strong indication of how they will handle complaints.

What Are Customer Complaints? | A Complaint Is a Gift Book CoverAre complaints annoyances? Are they part of the cost of doing business? Or are they gifts?

If a complaint is treated as a gift, team members are more likely to approach the complaint with a constructive and sincere attitude.

One of the first challenges of reactive customer service is to get team members to control the defensiveness that is the natural reaction for most humans when confronted with anger or an accusation. Reframing how our teams view complaints is an important part of overriding this common reaction.

Customer Silence In Not Golden, Complaints Are

The most important point about complaints is that they are an opportunity. Complaints are gifts because they are not silence. Silent attrition, when customers leave but never say a word to the company, is a huge issue in many businesses. According to Andrea J. Ayers of Convergys, companies, as an average across industries, lose 12% to silent attrition. In the credit card industry, the number is 43%! cite

A complaint is an opportunity to bond, to learn, and to recover. It is an opportunity that silence does not provide.

Techniques for handling complaints are not a secret. The authors address an 8-Step Gift Process in the book, and it is fairly standard customer service advice.

The magic is not found in a secret formula for handling complaints but in changing the attitude of our organizations. The opportunity is in helping our teams readjust how they perceive and receive complaints, helping them to understand that a complaint is not a problem to be dealt with but a gift to be embraced.

How does your organization view complaints?

* Barlow and Moller. A Complaint Is a Gift. Digital edition. 2008. Page 75.


By Adam Toporek. Adam Toporek is an internationally recognized customer service expert, keynote speaker, and workshop leader. He is the author of Be Your Customer's Hero: Real-World Tips & Techniques for the Service Front Lines (2015), as well as the founder of the popular Customers That Stick® blog and co-host of the Crack the Customer Code podcast.

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