The options for an unsatisfied customer are:
- seek redress directly from firm
- take legal action
- complain to business, private or governmental agencies
- stop buying product or brand or boycott service provider
- warn friends
Essentially these are:
- Do nothing
- Complain in some form to the service provider and seek redress
- Take overt action with a third party
- Defect and simply not patronize the firm again
What should also be noted here is that of all the responses an unsatisfied customer can take, option 1, seeking redress directly from the firm, is the preferred option.
Companies would generally prefer unsatisfied customers contact them rather than other organizations or warning friends. This should highlight how important it is for companies to “develop a ‘complaints as opportunities’ culture”.
It is significant, however, that most unhappy customers never take time to voice their dissatisfaction; they simply go away unhappy and never return. Worse still, customers may act as terrorists, that is taking great delight in relating their experience to as many friends and acquaintances as possible and telling them not to patronize the service firm in question under any circumstances.
Figure 5 shows that companies should want their unhappy customers to complain, as the alternatives are not as constructive. Moreover, stories such as these often become embellished over time, and so their negative impact on a service organization multiplies.
Purposes of customer complaints
There are usually two main purposes in complaining. These are:
- to recover some economic loss
- to rebuild self-esteem
Service providers need to understand these motivations and need to be prepared to respond to each effectively. It also needs to be remembered that it is not only what is said and done that is important, but also how this is done.
Complaining a form of social interaction
Complaining represents a form of social interaction and therefore is likely to be influenced by role perceptions and norms surrounding those role perceptions. This means that not all customers feel comfortable or confident about complaining, especially if it means voicing their complaint to someone else personally.
Consumers in eastern collectivist cultures are less likely to complain since many of the religions (e.g., Buddhism) preach tolerance and societal norms mean complaining will cause the provider to lose face.
Moreover, customers may feel there is nothing to be gained from complaining or, simply, that they just can’t be bothered to do so.
Consequently, service providers in both East and West are well advised to consider alternative means by which customers can express their dissatisfaction, in ways that are not necessarily intimidating for them to do so, and in such a manner that encourages response and promises adequate redress. This demands a management commitment of attitude, policy, and resources.
Utilizing customer complaints as a business opportunity
Dealing with customer complaints is essentially problem-solving but can also be an opportunity to glean valuable information about service quality standards and how these might be improved. Many firms lack the mechanisms to record complaints and then funnel them back to management.
Complaint collection procedures which include, for example, toll-free telephone numbers and customer (dis)satisfaction surveys, are useful for finding out more about what makes customers happy and unhappy, delighted, or dissatisfied.
They don’t necessarily help to resolve problems, but they do serve to highlight them, to afford insights into customer attitudes and behavior, and to provide an opportunity for follow-up.