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."
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.