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How an Unhappy Customer Can (Paradoxically) Help Your Business

by CB Whittemore  |  
May 31, 2011
  |  13,318 views

In this article, you'll learn...

  • The psychology of customer dissatisfaction
  • How to extract value from customer complaints
  • How resolving a complaint can win you a loyal customer

Because I have an interest in the idea of reputation (see my recent MarketingProfs online seminar: Managing Your Reputation in a Social World), I've been intrigued by psychologist Guy Winch's new book, The Squeaky Wheel: Complaining the Right Way to Get Results, Improve Your Relationships, and Enhance Self-Esteem. It examines the psychology of complaining—or, in Guy's words, our "complaining psychology, its impact on how we complain as consumers (as well as in our relationships), and our interactions with the customer service industry."

By the way, Guy also writes The Squeaky Wheel Blog for Psychology Today. And, later this month, he'll be keynoting the MarketingProfs B2B Forum in Boston.

Why should marketers care about Guy's message? Because many businesses focus on fixing issues when complaints happen. But there's a lot of effort—and angst—that precedes an actual complaint. Your customer has to care intensely to invest the energy to complain... and to get that complaint heard. Imagine if businesses could funnel all of that energy into a positive resolution that could generate productive, lasting outcomes...

Below, Guy gives some ideas on how to make the complaint process more constructive and (ultimately) more productive for businesses.

What makes you so interested in the notion of customer complaints?


Guy: As a psychologist who also has a private practice, I was always struck by how often patients would discuss consumer complaints, how frustrating they found them, and how helpless they felt about tackling them. I would often coach them through it (when the issue/complaint was meaningful enough—I give several examples of this in my book) and was always amazed at the impact getting the matter resolved had on their self-esteem, mood, and mental health.

Of course, it is a similar issue with personal complaints (marital, familial, etc.); people feel just as hopeless about being able to complain to a loved one and get a result.

At the same time, my twin brother is an organizational psychologist (yes, identical twins with Ph.D.s in psychology—a book unto itself), and he also owns a call center. Over the years, we've had a running dialogue about complaints from the company side of things as well.


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Christine "CB" Whittemore is chief simplifier of Simple Marketing Now LLC, a social media and content marketing consultancy focused on helping organizations make their marketing work harder. Christine contributes to MarketingProfs and MarketingProfs Daily Fix, the Content Marketing Institute, and Floor Covering Weekly, a Hearst publication. You can reach her via Twitter @CBWhittemore.

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  • by Valbus Tue May 31, 2011 via web

    Can't agree more with the article. Still many companies are struggling to get this implemented especially with their call center people making you wonder if it is really seen as a priority. Making sure to turn a disatisfied customer in a satisfied one is even more crucial in today's social network world. Companies seem very eager to react when a negative post is written on the company facebook page but handling consumer complaint well in the first hand is the best prevention to such complaints escalating in negative word of mouth. I would go one step further: I would encourage companies to even take more proactive action to repair damage to consumers ... see what Skype did earlier this year after having experienced issues with their service (offer free minutes to all customers) or more recently in Belgium Mobistar for all their mobile phone users... might be a short term impact on the bottom line but it pays out long term in terms of customer loyalty.

  • by Syed Atif Akhtar Tue May 31, 2011 via web

    One word! Fantastic article

  • by Kano Tue May 31, 2011 via web

    Convert a negative thing to a positive result.

  • by mikhail Wed Jun 1, 2011 via web

    Quite impressive! This truly reveals areas of improvement for converting negative customers to raving fans.

  • by Tricia H Thu Jun 2, 2011 via web

    Terrific article. People do tend to complain to family/friends about a bad experience rather than direct to the company. Paying more attention to complaints and actively reaching out to your customers for feedback is vitally important. In summary, a company could find that fishing for complaints could be more valuable than fishing for compliments.

  • by Dydacomp Thu Jun 2, 2011 via web

    Great article. We recently wrote a blog (http://blog.dydacomp.com/the-411-on-negative-feedback) that dealt with a similar issues and found that social media is a great way to combat these negative reviews and turn the situations around so a company is able to benefit. To use social media effectively requires a business to listen, interact and react.

    An article on Internet Retailers found that when surveryed 1 in 4 (26%) people surveyed stated that they are more likely to share bad experiences with family and friends than good experiences.

    Thanks for sharing this article!

    Molly Grifin

  • by Pete Austin @MarketingXD Wed Jun 15, 2011 via web

    An unhappy customer can help your business, if they are the right type of customer, because then resolving their problem can help others.

    If they are the wrong type of customer; someone who should have qualified out at the beginning, and should never have been buying from you, then helping them will hurt other customers by reducing your focus on your target market.

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