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Meet Your Complaining Customers, What Causes Them To Complain, And How Complaints Affect Your Business

publication date: Jul 5, 2012
author/source: Tom Costello, Guest Columnist @ HospitalityEducators.com

Meet Your Complaining Customers, What Causes Them To Complain, And How Complaints Affect Your Business

If you are a manager, frontline or back-of-the-house employee in the hospitality industry, or in any business for that matter that provides customer service, you are bound to get complaints.

We all understand that it goes with the territory but I want to delve a bit more deeply into the persona of those who complain, the reasons why they complain, and how complaints and customer defections affect your business.

Let’s first take a look at the different profiles of customers who complain.

Quiet Ken: Ken travels on business about 20 percent of the time.  A business trip for Ken is more like a vacation and your hotel serves as his temporary home away from home.  Ken is the first one in line for your free breakfast and the manager’s reception and will never complain about anything, unless the toilet backs up, and one thing you can hang your hat on is that he will be back next quarter regardless of how you may have mishandled his stay.

Larry the Complainer: ‘Complainer’ is Larry’s middle name and when he feels the need to gain some attention, he rips into an unsuspecting employee for his own personal gratification.  He complains about everything from the color of your carpet to the complimentary mints at the hostess stand.  Larry will make sure to tell everyone in the lobby bar that he had a terrible experience and then will proceed to stiff the bartender as his payback.

Vegas Vince: Vince is a very successful business professional, drives an expensive car, and has a new date on his arm every time he visits your restaurant.  Vince doesn’t hesitate to order the best champagne and the finest cut of beef on your menu and will only complain when Roger, this evening’s waiter, is having a bad hair day.  Vince will summon the manager prior to his exit to make sure that Roger cleans up his act if he ever wants a chance to wait on his table again.

Slick Willy: Prior to his check in, Willy spent the night in his man cave devising a scheme that is designed to net him a freebie.  Willy will berate your staff, complain that he’s been bitten by bed bugs, and threatens you with a horrific TripAdvisor or Yelp review if you don’t bend to his demands. In the end, Willy is a slime ball, his complaints are unwarranted, and his only intention is to hold you hostage.

Loyalty Linda: Linda is a long-time member of your loyalty rewards program which gives her license to complain about everything. She even packs a pair of white gloves for her trip that will allow her to exhibit the dust that has settled in her parking space at the hotel’s garage. Her mission is to make your day miserable and as much of a pain in the butt that she can be, she is a member of your loyalty program and both of you know who the winner (whiner) is here.  As she departs the hotel, you nod your head, smile politely, bite your tongue, and cross your fingers that she won’t be back anytime soon.

Now that I’ve identified the profile of your typical complainers, let’s take a look at some of the most common causes that spark complaints.

Did you deliver what you promised?

Who are your customers and what are you promising them?  When did you last review your web site, menu or brand message? Do they contain service promises which are sometimes over promised and under delivered?  Your ultimate message to your customers must be clear, simple, executable, and you must understand the difference between what they want and what you think they want.

Did you deliver what your customer expected?

Hotel brands across the board promise a great night’s sleep in a clean comfortable room but in the end did your product deliver what your customer expected?  When was the last time you changed your bed product, renovated guest rooms, redesigned your menu or repaired the vinyl in booth 19? Regardless of current economic conditions, if you don’t invest in what you’ve promised to deliver to your customers, you’ll attract more complaints than you bargained for.

Do any of your employees have an attitude problem?

Like Roger the waiter, some employees have a bad hair day every day!  They act like they are doing you a favor just by taking a moment out of their routine to assist you with your needs. Most employees in the service industry like this don’t last long but we all run into the one bad apple that spoils the whole bunch.  The longer this employee stays employed, the sooner you’ll be serving sour apples for desert.

No Authority To Make Decisions

Have you ever run into the gatekeeper who just can’t come up with a solution for your complaint? You get answers like “I have to check with corporate on that”, “I don’t have the authority to make that sort of decision”, and “I’ll have to get the approval from my manager but he’s on vacation this week”.  If you don’t empower your employees to take action or make decisions, you’ve set the table that gives customers more reasons to serve up complaints.

Own Up To Your Mistakes

Isn’t it nice to hear someone say, “Yes you’re absolutely correct Mr. Jones and on behalf of all of my associates, I apologize for the inconvenience that we may have caused you”. If you get this type of response when making a complaint, you immediately know there’s a good chance that things will be handled in an expeditious manner. When you’re in the wrong, make things right by admitting you’ve made a mistake.  It can turn a fire into a flame that can be quickly extinguished.

Keeping The Customer In The Dark

In any effective complaint handling process, you need to keep client constantly in the loop. A complaint, followed by days of silence, allows a customer’s emotions to boil. Avoiding a resolution to the problem can only make matters worse, and guaranteeing that the next call from this disgruntled customer will be even more intense!

Lack Of Follow Up

This is probably the most frequent reason for human cause of complaint; “I’ll be happy to take care of this for you Mr. Smith”. What happens? The commitment winds up in a black hole! The impression given is that you and your staff don’t give a flip, or that the customer’s complaint is of no immediate importance to anyone other than him. By not following through on your promises you will give your customer a solid reason to never return.

Now let’s look at some sobering statistics about what a customer complaint can cost your business.

  • For every complaint expressed, there are over 26 unregistered complaints.
  • 32 percent of hotel complaints go unresolved.  39 percent of restaurant complaints go unresolved.
  • Tick off one person and they tell six to 10 of their friends about their experience.
  • Tick of one person who shares his experience online can reverberate through 6,000 of his ‘friends’.
  • 68 percent of customers defect because of an attitude of indifference towards the customer by the staff.
  • 91 percent of unhappy customers will not willingly do business with you again.
  • 80 percent of complaints are likely to have poor communication as their root cause.
  • A typical business hears from only about four percent of its dissatisfied customers. 96 percent just go away and 91 percent will never come back.

So what do you think now?

Next post, I’ll share a complaint management strategy that you can use to lower your customer complaints.

Tom Costello is the CEO and Managing Director of iGroupAdvisors, a performance improvement consulting firm that specializes in the hospitality and travel verticals.  Connect with him on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google+, or contact him by email.  Request a complimentary copy of his new book “Prepare for Liftoff.


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