Complaints & Complainers are Strategic Assets

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Creative Commons License photo credit: quinn.anya

Recently, a friend of mine got this email from an electronic components vendor he uses.

I’ll let you read it before we dive into comments about it.

The Call for Complainers

You have to love sales reps. Everything is always “yes.” Every problem is amazingly solved by whatever they are selling. When I’ve been oversold, I complain. How a company responds to a complaint is what sets them apart.

I recently complained to one of Jameco’s software providers that their product had disappointed me. My sales rep had promised me a specific feature, but when I went to use it, I found it worthless. I was frustrated and fired off a complaint.

Did anyone take my comments seriously? Will they fix the feature? I don’t expect an apology but I would think that if I took the time to complain, that someone might have time to type out a brief “thank you.” Are you surprised that my complaint was apparently ignored?

Jameco treasures complaints. The word “treasures” was not chosen lightly. In fact, I’ll take a complaint over a compliment any day of the week. Complaints offer Jameco a road map to improve and perfect our business. Don’t get me wrong, complaints are rare, but when we frustrate our customers we treat the input as gold and we’re trained to fix the problem so it won’t happen again.

We make it easy for customers to have direct access to the Jameco management team and actively respond to all e-mail personally at  **email address removed by Mark**. No company is perfect but there’s a problem when a company begins to think that they are.

Regards,

Greg Harris
Vice President of Marketing

While I totally agree with Mr. Harris’ attitude about customer feedback, I have to admit that I’m completely disappointed that this isn’t the norm.

At times I’ve brought up this subject and the consistent feedback I get (which should be a treasure) seems to immediately go two directions:

1) Despite the commonly used saying, customers are not always right (note that Harris NEVER says that)

2) This is Montana, what do you expect?

Both attitudes miss the point entirely. The second one sets an expectation that is so Mississippi-like** that it disgusts me.

How do you welcome feedback? How do you treasure it?

Feedback is a strategic asset

Improvement is a function of feedback.

Your competitive position is a function of (among other things) your ability to improve and the speed that which you improve.

If your clients see feedback going nowhere, their collective intelligence and market knowledge will stop being funneled through you. It’ll either go nowhere (lowering the bar in a market that probably needs it raised) or it’ll go to your competitor.

Neither is a good thing.

Treat feedback as a strategic asset to your company and do so in a public way that makes it clear to your customers that it is of serious strategic importance – so they value it as well.

PS: Does your sales force fit the description Greg offers in the opening to his letter? If so, do something about it.

**NOTE: “Mississippi-like” refers to a US state that is 49th or 50th in numerous statistical categories. I’m sorry if you’re from Mississippi and don’t like the facts. I don’t like them either.

UPDATE: Another view of this issue, from a different angle, from Mark Cuban. Note that he is talking about new product creation. In that case, I agree that when creating a game changing product/service, you can expect exactly what he describes. That isn’t what Harris is talking about, however.

4 thoughts on “Complaints & Complainers are Strategic Assets”

  1. Totally agree. Complaints are the gold. They usually tell you what the non-complainers are thinking. By addressing the complaint and rising to the occasion you are able to overcome a problem that’s probably impacting your entire customer base and leading to loss of sales or word of mouth… and that’s something to complain about.
    .-= David Moloney´s last blog ..Eureka! Finding your Unique Selling Point =-.

    1. Exactly. And thats where the Curious Cat manager really has to be able to see which is which:) Thanks for commenting, John.

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