Customer Complaints: A Goldmine of Opportunity for Improvement

In the contact center industry, we often find ourselves on the receiving end of some pretty mean-spirited customer complaints. These can be painful conversations. On multiple occasions I’ve seen customer service representatives brought to tears as a customer angrily complains about an issue. Without tools to turn such complaints into opportunities to save the day, we not only risk losing that customer – we also risk losing the representative once they decide they can’t deal with more angry customers.

Complaints a goldmine?

Yet, any time a company has been unable to meet its customers’ expectations (over which the company usually has little-to-no control) it is my sincere hope that customer gives the company an earful.  And for this we should all be grateful.

Sound crazy?

The reality is this: customer complaints are a goldmine of opportunities for improvement.

Before I make my case, it’s important to point out two important realities. First, your customer might be your boss, your employee, your significant other, your parent or child – really anyone with whom you have a relationship. We are all selling something to someone. Don’t limit the application of this idea to only the buyer-seller relationship. Second, loyalty is much more emotional than it is rational. How your customer feels as a result of the interaction is what will ultimately determine whether they stick around.

Okay, back to the goldmine. Have you ever heard the saying “the customer is always right”? Does it still hold? Lately I am hearing more and more complaints about the customer. “The customer doesn’t pay on time.” “They complain too much.” “Their expectations aren’t realistic.“ In a recent article Gary Vaynerchuk tried to correct this attitude. He said “the customer is always right as long as you expect and want their money”. Swap the word “money” for “loyalty” or “friendship” and you can see how success in business, your career, and your life depend on satisfying your tough customers.

Tips to make the most of complaints

We may not realize it, but we are often asking for feedback. This happens when a company puts out an employee or customer satisfaction survey, creates a focus group, or an employee completes a 360-degree performance review. But, when constructive feedback is unsolicited, our natural instinct is to ignore the feedback and defend our actions. Here are some tips to make the most of unsolicited feedback (also known as “complaints”):

  • Exercise Humility – None of us are perfect. Acting as if we can do no wrong sends a message to our customer that we are not interested in improvement. If they believe it’s not going to get better, they won’t stick around.
  • Clarify Your Customer’s Expectation – When your customer complains, ask how he or she would like to see the situation resolved. This shifts the energy invested in complaining into a productive discussion about possibilities. Then, focus on what you can do, not what you can’t.
  • Be Compassionate – The Dalai Lama once emphasized the difference between empathy and compassion. While the empathetic person cares, it is the compassionate individual who can turn that empathy into fuel for action.


You can take two different paths when it comes to customer complaints. Ignore them and risk losing your customer, or, embrace them, work hard to get better, and earn your customer’s loyalty for life.

To create the exceptional customer experience, we must choose to embrace and improve.

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