5 Good Things About Customer Complaints

In June, Mike Blumenthal takes a deep look at customer complaints with a series of articles.  View all of the posts covering strategy, ideas, customer insight, survey data and more to improve how your business handles customer complaints.

You love your business. It might even feel like your “baby”. So when a complaint comes in from a customer it can be devastating. And yet this painful experience of things going wrong, can actually be a huge blessing.

business is your baby

Instead of cringing and losing sleep next time you get a complaint, see it for what it is and use it to cement your bond with your customer and improve your business. There is gold in that complaint, lemonade in that lemon… you need to adjust your thinking so that you can see it and hear it and respond appropriately.

I know you are thinking “easy for him to say, he doesn’t have to listen to them”. I managed a bricks and mortar business with 50 employees for more than 20 years and during that time I got my fair share of complaints.

While I didn’t always succeed I did try to follow the advice that follows. And I still lost a fair bit of sleep. Trust me, it wasn’t worth it.

How can complaints actually be good for your business?

1- Most unhappy customers don’t complain they just don’t come back, ever.

When customers are unhappy with your service most (94%) will leave, say nothing and just not come back. A few (4%) will typically complain. Consider yourself lucky if they do complain instead of just abandoning you and your business. At least with a complaint you know that something went wrong and you can try to fix it for both this customer and future ones.

2- A complaint is a buying signal.

A complaint can be a buying signal that customer wants to continue to do business with you but is feeling so much pain they are not sure they can. The complaint is often a call for help so that they can maintain their relationship with you. It may feel like a personal attack but its really the customer attempting to reconcile their conflicting feelings.


3- A complaint is private, between just you and the customer.

Unlike a bad review, its not something that the world can see. Its impact is limited. How you handle it will dictate whether you keep the customer or whether you get that bad review. Most consumers do not default to writing a bad review when their shopping experience goes wrong.

In fact it would appear that most customers usually only write bad reviews after things went very, very wrong. Despite their bringing the issues to the businesses’ attention, often multiple times, no solutions were offered.

4- A complaint, if successfully resolved, will retain the customer 70% of the time.

Acquiring a new customer is expensive (up to 25 times more expensive than retaining an existing one) and most of your sales come from your existing customers not new ones. If you handle the complaint well, not only will you keep the customer you will avoid that bad review. The willingness of 70% of customers to continue to do business with you after a complaint is resolved makes for a compelling ROI and makes it worth your while to solve the problem.

5- A complaint is a way to learn what needs to be improved

A complaint reflects a failure of some sort either in your business processes or in setting expectations of the customers. A careful examination of the causes can really help you improve and hopefully avoid the situation in the future.

There is a saying that what doesn’t kill you makes you better. Complaints are much like that. The trick is to be better with that customer rather than without them. As Earl Netwal has said Complaints are the raw material out of which a better business is built.

If you can intervene early with the customer, intervene with integrity and intervene with a true desire to learn and resolve the problem you can not only help your business be better but you can keep that customer.


14 Replies to “5 Good Things About Customer Complaints”

  1. Steven Dale says:

    We had a client up until a few days ago that asked for 20 times more than any other customers. I kept him on for extra time so I could use his “Events” to modify our terms and conditions. I finally had enough and asked him to find another agency a few days ago. He pushed us to look at what we do and how to make it better for the other 75 clients. Expensive education!

    1. Mike Blumenthal says:

      There are times when its important that you fire the customer, no question about. But as you have done, be sure that you can learn from the situation.

      Complaint handling is often viewed as an expense but from where I sit, even in your case, since you were open to learning from it, it is an investment. And your payback over time will be huge.

  2. Jack Bobeck says:

    We either have clients who rate us a 7, 8. 9, 10 or they rate us at 1 for their pet having a bad experience. What is really crazy is that we have many free services offered. I would like to find a way to restrict people from receiving a rating if they use a free service, as paid customers should be the only ones available to comment back to us.

    Would also like to see more custom fields in the system. I can see a field for the “Product/Service1” they used and then how their “pet” enjoyed the service. When can we add video to these emails as well?

    1. Mike Blumenthal says:

      I emailed you offline for more details.

      As for custom fields we some changes in the works that will hopefully fill the bill.


  3. @Jack, I suggest that you want feedback from all clients who could either leave you reviews online or contribute, for better or for worse, to your business reputation in the community. The more feedback you get, the more you’ll learn about how your business is perceived, and the more data you’ll have to reinforce what’s working and fix what’s not working. I also suggest that we don’t want to mess with the Net Promoter form of the feedback question. It’s the data metric that was found to have the highest correlation with business success in the Harvard Business Review study, “The One Number You Need to Grow“. If you change the feedback survey, you throw out all of the research that validated Net Promoter.

    @Mike, I generally see two kinds of complaints — constructive and “intent to injure”. The constructive complaints certainly do give you, the business owner, valuable information about what’s not working in your business. If you act on this information, your business will grow and likely bring that constructive complainer back. The “intent to injure” people are in a different class and Get Five Stars offers an opportunity to mitigate any damage they might do. Often, it’s not your business that’s the cause of the anger — it could be something else the person’s dealing with that causes reactive ranting. Since Get Five Stars encourages the ranters to rant to the business owner first, it’s often possible to calm the person and move out of the line of fire.

    Great article!

    1. Mike Blumenthal says:


      Thanks for the feedback and the article. I have linked to it in your comments and will link to it elsewhere. I agree that if you can put yourself in the right frame of mind, you can really use the intelligence to improve your business.

      I love your distinction as to the type of complaints and their sources. That makes all kinds of sense and puts complaints into a “psychological model” that would generally work and help the business owner understand why some complaints are more useful than other. But I am sure you know its never easy to receive a complaint and sometimes like the customer, the owner needs a headspace adjustment.

      There is the question for me though of when in the client relationship you should consider them a client. For example with GetFiveStars we originally offered a 15 free trial and then asked for a credit card. We would send out the survey on day 16. Clearly that is useful and the information gained valuable but many of the folks that signed up never used the product and didn’t even enter one email address and were in fact prospects not customers. It gave us intel about the on boarding process but not about how customers who were really using the product were feeling.

  4. Johnny Chen says:

    Mike, great article. One thing I’ve learned is that when a customer complain, sometimes they are really not saying what they want to say. Most customers don’t complain, they just tell all their friends that your business has that certain “flaw.”
    you know what they say, damages are more easily dealt and it takes 10 good things to make up for one bad complain.

    1. Great post, Mike. With today’s technology, a customer may not complain to you but rather go and vet out on the social media platforms that will hurt your business since it’s like 75% of clients that read your reviews before conducting with your. It’s great when you remind us how we should conduct our businesses.

  5. Charlie says:

    It’s always the 80/20 rule. 20% of the customers will get you 80% of your headakes as they will allways complain for anything they can think of. I started recently to fire those 20% clients and I’m seeing a huge difference in the business. Thanks for your share.

    1. I tend to find that the clients with a technical background, give more headache.

  6. Dor says:

    Great stuff Mike.
    I have two different businesses, one for selling physical products and the other is a service I provide, in both cases the customers’ complaints help me grow and get better.

  7. SEOS Houston says:

    These 5 good things about customer complaints was spot on. I agree that you should always strive to resolve customer complaints.

  8. Great article. We all need to strive for better customer service and listen more to our clients. With social media and reviews its so easy for these complaints to ruin your business and not to mention social media and reviews.

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