Turning customer complaints into inspiration (and action)

At work, I subscribe to an email distribution list where customer complaints from web forms get routed around.  Every day, someone complains.  It’s logical given the size of our user base (100 million+), but more importantly because we know we can do better.

That steady drumbeat of complaints motivates me.  Call me a masochist. Complaints are a constant reminder that with every improvement we make, there is still work to do.

An aside: you won’t be surprised to know that one of our web forms, for general feedback and product suggestions, is highly skewed towards complaints too.  If you ever doubted the adage that for every customer that praises, there are ten who complain, I’m pretty sure I have the proof.  No matter.

You’re probably wondering, where’s the news here?  Don’t we all try to listen to customer feedback?  Yes and no.

It’s tempting to get immune to that drumbeat.  If you get ten complaints every day, is it possible to eventually accept this as “normal”?  After all, your business is probably growing regardless.

I’ve seen two dilemmas in multiple companies where I’ve worked (disclaimer alert: this blog isn’t about my current company per se).

One dilemma is that the corrective action isn’t obvious.

A quick win is to inspect how customer complaints get categorized on receipt.  Regardless of whether you have a call center, online help forums or both, the taxonomy by which you classify complaints can matter.  At numerous companies I’ve worked for, that taxonomy was broken in the sense that for those people who built the product (product managers, developers, QA et al), this customer care data wasn’t categorized clearly enough that it would guide their behavior.

The second dilemma is that not each and every complaint can be resolved to the customer’s complete satisfaction.  Like all things, the corrective actions require prioritization, on the basis of user impact, prevalence, etc.

If you’re good at categorization, then the corrective action is clear and so is the priority.  Try it, you’ll like it!

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