Good or Bad, Customer Feedback Is a Gift

Some products or services fail because they fix a problem that too few people need fixed.

Others fail even though there is a demand for a product or service to fix a problem, it’s just that the company didn’t create the right product or service to fix it.

I think from the title of the post, you can see where I am going with this.

But, before I get into it further, let’s get a short history lesson from 3M.

The History of Scotch Brand Tape

According to the book, “Symbols of America: A Lavish Celebration of America’s Best Loved Trademarks and the Products They Symbolize, Their History, Folklore, and Enduring Mystique,” (affiliate link) by Hal Morgan, “Pure serendipity led the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, more commonly known as 3M, to the name Scotch Brand for its tapes. In 1925 the fad for two-toned automobiles created a demand for masking tape coated with a thin strip of adhesive on each edge. When the tape failed to stick properly, a disgruntled auto-body painter told his 3M salesman to take the tape back to his “Scotch” bosses and tell them to put the adhesive all over the surface of the tape. The slur stuck, the company took the painter’s advice, and 3M has been marketing tapes under that name with the familiar tartan trim ever since.”

Just to verify the validity of the story, I double-checked with Wikipedia.

While some of the details are slightly different, the key element of the story remains. That is, a customer was not happy with the product and let the company know about it instead of just changing suppliers without an explanation.

By taking the time to let 3M know how the product was not meeting his needs and offering a solution, the customer gave 3M the information needed to improve the product.

And, by actually listening to the needs of the customer, 3M not only made a product that satisfied the needs of one customer, it helped meet the needs of many of its customer and, in the process, launched one of the most successful brands of tape in history.

Customer Complaints Are Gifts

If the example that I just gave hasn’t convinced you of the value of listening to the feedback that customers give you, I don’t know what will.

But, for those of you who do need some additional convincing, I’d suggest reading a recent blog post by Adam Toporek on customersthatstick.com, titled “What Are Customers Complaints? They’re Gifts.”

In the post, Toporek outlines some of the concepts that are introduced in a book by Janelle Barlow and Claus Moller, titled, “A Complaint Is a Gift: Recovering Customer Loyalty When Things Go Wrong.” (affiliate link)

The blog post suggests that businesses need to change the way that they think about customer complaints. Instead of thinking of them as an annoyance or an indication of failure, businesses need to think of customer complaints as a way to identify customers’ needs that have not yet been met and as opportunities to turn dissatisfied customers into satisfied ones, and possibly create brand advocates in the process.

As Toporek points out, “The most important point about complaints is that they are an opportunity. Complaints are gifts because they are not silence. Silent attrition, when customers leave but never say a word to the company, is a huge issue in many businesses. According to Andrea J. Ayers of Convergys, companies, as an average across industries, lose 12% to silent attrition. In the credit card industry, the number is 43%!”

Customer complaints are gifts, indeed!

Customer Feedback on the Internet

As the 3M example shows, customers have been giving companies advice about how to make a better product for many years. In fact, they may have been doing so since the beginning of time for all I know.

However, in the past, it was very easy for the message to get lost before the right person at the company received it.

Just think about what would have happened if the customer who had complained about 3M’s tape told a person who did not care enough to relay the message to a person who could do something about it. If that had happened, 3M would have left a lot of money on the table and might not have become the company it is today.

Luckily, it is now much easier for the customer to get his or her suggestion into the hands of the right person by posting a complaint on the Internet. Or, to state it a different way, it is now easier for the decision makers in a company to get access to the suggestion.

Also, keep in mind, not all feedback is bad. If a company is doing a great job of meeting the needs of its customers, there is a chance that they will let others know about that, too.

Positive feedback in the form of reviews on review sites is one of the best types of advertising that a company can get. This is even more important given the fact that review sites tend to rank well on search engine results pages.

This is another reason to pay attention to the feedback that your company receives, good or bad.

Final Thoughts

No matter how much a company likes its own product or service, customers will only buy it if it fills a need better than the competition’s product or service.

Therefore, the feedback that a business receives from its customers might be more valuable than one might think.

When the feedback is good it acts as an advertisement for the company.

On the other hand, customer feedback can also tell a company that they have not yet met their customers’ needs.

This gives them the opportunity to make changes to the product or service that might benefit many of their customers, and in the process, increase sales.

It is for this reason I can confidently say that, whether good or bad, customer feedback is definitely a gift.

Photo credit: globochem3x1minus1 on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, freelance writer, content curator, applied sociologist, and a proud UW-Madison alumnus. My goal is to help businesses achieve their marketing objectives and business goals while gaining additional experience in the exciting world of digital marketing. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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