Brands can drive growth and retention by addressing silent complaints


We all know that customers talk about businesses and brands, both to recommend them and to complain about them. Now, whilst businesses would like be aware of all of the ‘talk’ about them, the reality is that much of the ‘talk’ that goes on cannot be heard, responded to, tracked or measured for insight.

Recent research by IPC Media in conjunction with GfK and Radium One called: The Digital Conversation, sheds some light on how much much talk businesses can and cannot track and measure, when it comes to recommendations and advocacy. Their research investigated how 500 consumers over a 6-month period shared digital content and what was shared. What they found was that only 10% of all brand related conversations take place on social channels (Twitter TWTR 0%, Facebook etc) with the remaining 90% taking place either offline, face to face or via methods that can’t be tracked (e.g. sharing by email).

A similar situation occurs when it comes to customer feedback and complaints, where research undertaken by US firm TARP Worldwide (now known as CX Act) back in 1999 illustrated the issue of ‘silent complaints’. Their research showed that for every 26 unhappy customers, only one (roughly about 4%) will make a formal complaint. The remaining 25, the ‘silent complainers’, tend to tell all of their friends and family about their experience and, more often than not, decide never to do business with that company or brand again. TARP (CX Act), in their research, go on to say that:

“Customers very rarely complain to the service/ product provider. Instead they will tell their friends, who will in turn tell their friends, creating a pyramid of dissatisfaction.”

Now it is unclear how these research results may have changed since 1999, particularly with the advent of social media, but what the research does do is illustrate the existence of an additional type of ‘talk’ that is going on that businesses and brands can’t hear, track or measure.

All of this might be a little frustrating for brand and customer experience professionals but it’s not surprising. Customers talk and do so, more often than not, in private.

So, what should brands and businesses do about this?

Well, when it comes to recommendations and advocacy, some firms have built successful referral and advocacy programmes that aim to engage their customers and make the recommendation process more formal and trackable.

However, I believe, the area where the greatest opportunity lies is with the latter type of talk – the finding and addressing of silent complaints.

The reason being is that finding and addressing even the smallest of problems can go a long way to improving a customer’s overall experience, can help identify areas for improvement and, in turn, it can help build advocacy and loyalty.

Many companies get this and are addressing it via their Customer Success Management (CSM) strategies and teams. One firm that is having great success with this type of strategy is Big Ass Fans , where in a recent interview (yet to be published) their CEO, Carey Smith, told me that the setting up of their customer advocate team, whose sole responsibility is to identify and fix what their customers don’t like, has been a core part of what has helped grow their company results five fold from $34 million in revenue in 2009 to a projected $175 million in 2014.

Brands without a Customer Success Management (CSM) strategy would do well to ask if their business would benefit from setting up their own customer advocate team that aims to find and address the silent complaints that exist in their business.




This post originally appeared on my column.

Photo Credit: dimitry ryzhkov via Compfight cc

5 comments On Brands can drive growth and retention by addressing silent complaints

  • I think you’re on to something here, Adrian:

    “However, I believe, the area where the greatest opportunity lies is with the latter type of talk – the finding and addressing of silent complaints.”

    My questions are: how do we identify the issues, if they aren’t telling us? and, how do we ensure that the little things we fix are the things that matter most to our customers?

    Annette 🙂

    • Hi Annette,
      Good questions. I would say that it starts with taking an approach that starts with a question like: ‘Is there anything that we do, or have ever done, that annoys you however slightly?’

      Only a few people may answer to start with but if you keep showing up, asking the question, building trust and showing that you are doing something about the answers then I think you’ll start to see real progress and gains.


  • Adrian, I guess that the customers who are vocal and those who keep it to themselves have exactly the same issues. Perhaps we would be better of simply resolving the complaints we get and making sure they never happen again.

    That way we would deal with what is unsaid as well.

  • I agree that we should focus on resolving the current set of complaints and making sure that they never happen again. However, I think the silent complaints may be the small bits of grit or annoyances that are just not big enough to launch a formal complaint about and may need to be uncovered.

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