Developing brand loyalty through complaints

Do you feel reluctant to complain about poor service or shoddy products? Typically, a business will only hear from four per cent of its dissatisfied customers. There are many reasons for this including the British stiff upper lip and our reluctance to make a fuss. TSB logo

Good brands love complaints! The four per cent who get in touch mean a lot to brands that behave with authenticity. If they don’t know where they have gone wrong, they can’t fix a problem. They also know that dissatisfied customers tell twice as many people about bad service as good. Brands would rather hear from you if you are not happy, to give them a chance to put things right and secure your loyalty.

I have complained about the service provided by three brands in the last few months; TSB, EasyJet and Farndon Fields farm shop in my local town of Market Harborough. But I remain loyal to them because of the way they handled the issues I raised. In fact, here I use them as case studies of good customer service and suggest that all brands take a look at how they respond to negative feedback. My experience suggested some tips for brands dealing with complaints.

EasyJet logo

Acknowledge the issue

Complaining customers do so at personal cost in terms of time. They clearly feel strongly enough to get in touch. Don’t ignore complaints. Acknowledge the message even if you don’t have time to deal with it immediately. Confirm that you have heard them. There is nothing worse than a complaint that disappears into the abyss. It may take some time to get to the bottom of what has happened so keep in touch and honour your stated timescales. EasyJet told me how long it would take before I heard from them, and followed up with a call to say that their investigation was still ongoing.

Investigate and explain

Address the issues that have been raised directly. Take them seriously even if you believe them to be trivial. This helps the customer get their issue into perspective. TSB did this well by enumerating each of my concerns and taking pains to say how right I was to raise them. You will need your best communicators to pull this off as it must be authentic and not sound patronising. You may even persuade the customer to get their complaint into perspective. But this is a conclusion the customer must reach themselves. Never tell them that it doesn’t really matter.

An honest apology

Honesty is disarming and will often take the heat our of a situation, and the wind out of your complainant’s sails. In the case of Farndon Fields, the owner called me directly, apologised frankly and immediately agreed that the service I had experienced was unacceptable. He made me feel like a trusted mystery shopper, reporting feedback on his brand, and I was pleased to be singled out for special attention.

Make amends

A small token goes a long way. Depending on the seriousness of your complaint, a refund, voucher or credit will be remembered as a welcome outcome by a disgruntled customer. My case study brands provided a flight voucher, bank account credit and afternoon tea on the house respectively. These gestures may not cost your company the earth, but your aggrieved customer will appreciate them and broadcast the outcome.


Farndon Fields Market Harborough logo

Complaints may surface wider issues within your business. Was this a one-off slip or a symptom of something more sinister? Are your communications as clear as they might be? Are your quality-checking procedures being followed by everyone? Perhaps there is a training issue that could prevent a repeat offence. If you do change something after a complaint, make sure you review it and check that it worked. Complaints should be built in to your continuous quality improvement plan.

Next time you receive a complaint, think of it as an opportunity to build a truly loyal customer.

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