I talk a lot in this blog about how companies need to listen to their customers, collect fair and accurate feedback, and take action to improve. But do customers have a responsibility, too?
In a thought-provoking and well-reasoned article, Cory Doctorow argues that customers have a duty to complain, because that's how companies will know what's wrong and how to fix it.
Most people don't want to complain. Complaining is confrontational. Complaining risks being labeled a "complainer," like those crazy people everyone who works in retail or customer service know so well. And there are, unfortunately, a lot of companies where complaints tend to get lost in the machinery.
So rather than complain, many customers quietly take their business elsewhere, or suffer in silence if switching isn't an option.
As uncomfortable as it may be, complaining before taking your business elsewhere is almost always a better option for both the customer and the company. Complaining gives the company a chance to fix the problem, giving the customer better service and saving the company a customer. This is practically the definition of win-win.
In many cases companies will be grateful to get thoughtful and meaningful customer complaints. To make an effective complaint you should:
- Be calm. Remember that the person you are complaining to is another human being and is probably not personally responsible for your problem. Nobody likes dealing with angry customers.
- Be reasonable. You should ask the company to fix the problem and deliver the product or service you paid for, but a minor inconvenience does not usually entitle you to financial compensation (though many companies will do something to apologize). Don't make threats.
- Remember not everyone can fix your problem. Most people in any given company have only limited authority, and if your complaint is complex, the first person you complain to might not be able to help. If that's the case, ask to talk to someone who can help. If you're complaining about a general company policy, it may be a slow process (with lots of complaints from lots of customers) to make a change.
- Be prepared. Have the facts and your story straight. Be ready to explain in clear, concise terms exactly what happened, why you felt this was wrong, what impact it had on you, and what the company needs to do.
As a Customer Experience professional, I know that a rational and well-presented customer complaint is a valuable gift. The worst thing that can happen (from a CX perspective) is when a customer leaves without complaining and then tells friends (in person or through social media) about how terrible the experience was.
So while I wouldn't say that customers have a duty to complain, I do think everyone would be much better off if customers did it more often.