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It is against our nature to respond receptively to complaints. At their base, complaints are alerts that we (or our business) are unsatisfactory and often are requests to change our behavior.

People usually don't like being told how bad they suck.

But in business you have a responsibility to please your customers. In this effort, you may do market research, put out surveys, or request exit interviews. But what if you could hear all of feedback without paying for it?

Complaining is the customer's way of giving feedback. It's often difficult to hear about areas that need improving, but complaints can easily change your business for the better.

In this post, I will prove that customer complaints usually emanate from an altruistic place, that their feedback is immensely important to your business, and offer ways that complaints can be turned into a wonderful gift.

It's like lotto: you have to be in it to win it

The first step to turning a complaint into a gift is the ability to listen. Listening to your customers is really online reputation management. The good thing is that your customers are already talking about your business. From Bob Thompson, CEO of CustomerThink:

"You also might find that customers are already telling you what they want on forums or blogs, web site feedback forms or call center agent logs - if you'll take the time to read them. Text mining is becoming a more commonplace way to learn what customers are saying when the volume becomes too high to handle manually."

Power to the people

We also know from Groundswell (my must-read book of 2008) that a full quarter of U.S. adults leave reviews online. And why are customers giving this feedback? Believe it or not, but it's usually because they want to help.

A recent Bavaarvoice survey shows that 73% of respondents say they write online reviews of products because they want to help companies improve the products they build and carry (per MarketingVox). Your customers who review your products online (one feedback/complaint mechanism) are mostly motivated by altruism.

Another reason not to ignore this feedback is because it's likely true. ComScore reports that "[n]inety-seven percent of those surveyed who said they made a purchase based on an online review said they found the review to have been accurate." ComScore also reports that customers trust each other more than you, the professional.

Continue reading Customer Altruism: A Complaint Really Is A Gift