When men can't complain, it's worse for the retailer

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By: Wise Marketer Staff |

Posted on March 10, 2006

Men who are unhappy with how a company deals with their complaint are likely to boycott that supplier for an average of 10 years - double the five year sentence imposed by the average woman, according to a recent Customer Champions/Omnisis online survey on customer complaints in the UK.

There was no significant difference between men and women on how many complaints were made. There was, however, a belief among men that they had a higher success rate in achieving a satisfactory resolution to their complaints, with women saying that 40% of their complaints still go unresolved.

Cause for complaint?
So what do consumers really want when they make a complaint? Perhaps surprisingly, their focus was not on financial reward. Instead they mainly focused on companies taking responsibility for, and ownership of, the problem. Particularly in the case of female respondents, they wanted the company to take their complaint seriously.

This is interesting when you examine companies policies on how to deal with complaining customers, where the focus is often on how much financial compensation can be provided rather than taking ownership, being empathic with customers, and taking them seriously.

According to Colin Bates, managing director for Customer Champions, "This finding has been borne out through our client-specific work, where the speed of resolution has had a major impact upon satisfying customers and minimising long-term financial effects, such as boycotting."

Great expectations
They survey found that, for most attributes, there was a significant gap between what customers expected when they complained and what they actually received. It appears that, as well as an acknowledgement, women are also more likely to want a thank-you from the company, while men are slightly more focused on receiving compensation. Although both genders expected responses from the company when promised, women exhibited a slightly higher expectation that this would take place on time.

The need for strong interpersonal skills when dealing with an unhappy customer is highlighted by the survey's findings on how consumers prefer to initiate a complaint. Respondents said they want to believe that the person they are complaining to is in a position to resolve the problem. There is a strong preference for initiating the complaint either face-to-face or to someone at the company's headquarters.

Proper channels
But as soon as consumers start to think that the human interaction is becoming more remote, their level of enthusiasm for the communication channel diminishes. This includes a strongly held preference in the UK for using UK-based dedicated complaints call-centres (rather than call centres in other countries).

Customer Champions also suggests that any company thinking of using SMS (text messaging) to collect complaints needs to rethink their plan, as consumers showed the same level of enthusiasm for SMS complaint mechanisms as they did for the humorously polled "carrier pigeon" channel.

When asked to identify what types of organisations they most regularly complain to, the focus was very much on those that consumers have the highest number of transactions with. Retailers were top of the list, followed closely by financial service organisations (e.g. banks and insurers), then utility companies.

Companies turning deaf?
Finally, a surprising finding from the survey was how little customers actually complain. It is not necessarily because they have nothing to complain about, though: it seemed to be more a question of whether they thought it worth complaining at all. Respondents were asked to indicate why they hadn't formally complained when they had problems, and the responses fell into three categories:

  1. Companies didn't make it easy to complain;
  2. The complaint wouldn't be taken seriously;
  3. The return they would get from their investment in time and effort in complaining wasn't worth the trouble.

These barriers to complaining should be a major concern to retailers and service providers, as consumers reported only bothering to complain twice a year on average. But the resulting dissatisfaction with suppliers leads to boycotts (both personal and with friends and family) and significant loss of revenues.

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