I’ve come to notice – both as a consumer and as a keen observer of customer management disciplines – that customers are often difficult to please. There is nothing wrong with expecting good customer service. Customers that are forking out hard earned cash (or credit) should expect a product or service to match their (hopefully realistic) expectations.

So it’s natural to complain when the product or service does not meet expectations. What I find frustrating is the way in which unhappy consumers do complain. Most often it’s not overt complaining but rather something like a moan to friends or a throwaway comment on social media.

Given the opportunity to complain directly about a poor product or service, customers will often say everything is okay even when it isn’t. A classic example of this is the waiter or restaurant manager asking you how your food is. Granted it always seems to be done when your mouth is full, but how often will you say the food is okay. Or even great when in fact it’s not? Why is this? Do we not like confrontation? Don’t we want to be the odd one out? Do we not want to hurt their feelings? I know in my wife’s case she won’t send her food back for fear of having bad things done to it in the kitchen. She’d rather put up with a sub-standard meal.

In this example and in many real life situations the customer is not affording the restaurant an opportunity to improve the situation. The most likely outcome is that the customer will never eat there again. Then tell all their friends about the rubbish meal, with the restaurateur wondering why customers are being lost.

Customer Surveys

While some people do then complain, they seem to do it in the wrong way. How often (especially when asked) do you fill in or reply to a customer satisfaction survey? These typically only take a few minutes and provide organisations with valuable information that can help them improve their products and services. Most people –  it seems – can’t be bothered as typical survey response rates are low. Online response rates do seem to beat telephone response rates but these rates can be as low as one to five percent.

So why is this? Well, I think there are a few reasons.

  • Firstly, many of us believe that our complaint or customer satisfaction survey response will make no difference.
  • Most people do not like confrontation or confrontational situations and as such won’t complain.
  • The effort taken to complain or complete a customer survey is perceived to be not worth the anticipated benefit. Or the benefit is unknown.
  • Customers will refrain from complaining in the hope that someone else does. This is very similar to a traffic light that is out of order. Many people won’t report it, each thinking that someone else will do it. In the end, no one reports it and it never gets fixed.

Lack of feedback in any situation is terrible. Whether it’s raising kids, developing employees, or teaching students. Operating in a vacuum does not produce ideal results. And don’t think that all customer feedback needs to be negative. Positive feedback (where deserved) is also important as it helps reinforce the things that organisations are doing well and that their customers like.

The Solution

So, make sure that you do play a part in the positive change in customer service you would like to see. Next time a customer survey lands in your inbox or accompanies your dinner bill, please do take the time and fill it out.

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