-Eric Swick, CPA & president of Payroll Specialists, LLC / Swick & Associates, Inc.

Taking Advantage of Customer Complaints for Positive Results

While no one likes to hear a customer’s complaint, they should not be ignored. I am the ultimate optimist and am always looking at the glass as being half full. Therefore a customer complaint should be viewed as something good.

Listening to customer complaints — seldom at the top of any manager's short list of enjoyable pastimes — can provide valuable insight into your business, insight that may not be available from any other source. 

Consider the following:

Complaints identify legitimate changes in customer expectations. Maybe you own a retail store. A customer says he loves your merchandise, but complains that you don't offer free delivery. He casually notes that several of his friends buy furniture at XYZ Company down the road — a firm that provides fewer choices and third-rate inventory — because that store offers this additional service. A prudent manager will ask, "Has the bar been raised?" If so, the decision not to provide free delivery could result in declining sales.

Complaints furnish insight into customer perceptions of your company and its products. What will you do with this information? Ignore it? Or use it as an opportunity to improve the usability of your products? Perhaps customers complain about how they're treated by frontline staff. You may not see anything amiss, but perception is often reality when it comes to business. You may need to manage that perception by providing additional staff training.

Complaints spotlight opportunities. Maybe your customers complain about something nobody provides — yet. Ponder their expectations. You just might discover a new product or service that will catapult your business to the forefront of the marketplace. 

Complaints even generate business. If you can develop your staff's ability to empathize with customers and resolve complaints in an effective manner, you'll often build customer loyalty. Generally speaking, people will respect a company that takes the time to hear them and makes an honest attempt to address their needs. 

The best companies develop a clear-cut system for dealing with and learning from customer complaints. They put the process in writing and make sure all employees know what's expected. They assign a "complaint owner": someone who follows up and makes sure complaints are addressed in a timely fashion. They may keep a complaint log and review it on a regular basis. And they ensure that customers aren't left out of the loop.

Though sometimes frustrating, stressful, even maddening, customer complaints can provide precious intelligence for the business owner who's willing to listen. It is also obvious that this can have an impact on your bottom-line.

As always, we would enjoy any feedback on this or any of our other newsletters. Please share your comments with us at

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