Make it easy for your customers to complain


Following my post on December 5th (When it comes to customer service, I’m a name not a number), I searched for a way of making Southern Water aware of my post and the issues that I faced.

I went to their website and contact page and to my surprise it was not immediately obvious how I could lodge a complaint. Yes, I could have called them but I didn’t want to speak to anyone given that I had just written done my experience. I did see a ‘How we handled your account’ email form but no explicit complaint form.

I then looked for some social media channels and could not see any Twitter link. However, by scrolling down to the bottom of the page (right down to the bottom in the footer of the site) I did find a Facebook page that they maintain.

As a result, I sent them a message via Facebook on Dec 5th.

Now, I must admit I wasn’t sure what response, if any, I would receive.

However, on Dec 21st I received the following email from Joel in Southern Water’s Public Relations team:

Dear Mr Swinscoe,

I hope you are well.

Many apologies for not coming back to you sooner on the issue you raised. We have been looking into the detail of what occurred, which has taken longer than first anticipated.

First of all, I would like to thank you, once again, for highlighting the experience you had when calling our Contact Centre recently.

You are completely right to state in your blog that when it comes to customer service, you are a name, not a number.

From the detail you have included in your blog, together with our own records, it is clear that you provided more than enough information to the agent you initially spoke to for them to have been able to have found and accessed your record.

It is not clear why they were not able to find your account record, and we would like to apologise for that. Our agents should be able to call up a customer record simply by searching our database using a name, address, or postcode.

We have issued a reminder to all our agents about the full range of information, which includes the various types of reference numbers we include on our customer letters, which they can use to search our database to find customer account records.

We are also refining the search function on our database to make it more flexible.

We have already embarked on a new training programme for our staff, which is aimed at improving the service we provide to customers when they contact us, or when we contact them, with a particular emphasis around fulfilling the promises / commitments we make to them.

Do let me now if you need further information, or have any other queries.

With best regards and wishes for a Merry Xmas and happy 2013,


What do you think of the letter?

Personally, there were a few things that occurred to me when I received this email:

  1. I was surprised and pleased at the response and it’s diligence;
  2. I wondered why it had taken 12 working days to get back to me;
  3. With my cynical hat, I wondered if this was their normal way of working and if my original post, it’s public nature and the response and comments it got had anything to do with their response.

However, I think there is some big lessons here that apply to all businesses.

Assuming that a business cares about their customers and what they think, isn’t a customer complaint better than a lost customer? And, isn’t a customer that is talking to you, even if they are complaining, better than one that is not talking to you at all?

Make it easy, really easy for your customers to complain. If they do, at least you know that they are still talking to you. Also, if you listen, respond and take action you might just learn something new or figure out how to improve the service you deliver to them.

[Note: Losing customers does not apply to Southern Water being the appointed supplier in this geographic area.]

Imagine the results you could achieve if you and I were working together to grow your business. Click here to find out more or here to arrange a time to have a chat.

Thanks to spackletoe for the image.

16 comments On Make it easy for your customers to complain

  • Love this post…so great that they responded so positively and I am a big believer to do the same with my customers.

    Making the customer feel good even if it does take a while to respond, is so important!!

    Great content and post!!

    Jen Fitzgerald

    • Hi Jen,
      Thanks for your comment and perspective.

      Yes, I too like the fact that they did respond. However, as other commenters have pointed out it is what they do with the response, how they solicit feedback and how easy they make that that is just as, if not more, important than their response.

      What do you think?


  • Adrian,

    I read somewhere that a complaining customer wants to maintain a relationship.

    Which seems sensible to me, especially as I don’t complain much, I just take my business elsewhere.

    If the sentiment is right, then it would be foolish not make it easy for your customers to complain, wouldn’t it?


    • James,
      It would seem foolish. But, as you point out, it all depends on their sentiment, how they are oriented/set up and how much they care about their customers.

      Lack of communication is the downfall of many a relationship.


  • Hello Adrian
    What occurs to me is that the situation at hand tends to be the opposite of what a customer-centred person like me would expect. What do I mean? The companies that get it right tend on the whole to make it easy for me, the customer, to contact them. The companies that tend to get it wrong are the very ones that make it hard for me to contact them including making a complaint. One great example of this is Royal Mail on which I will be writing a post.

    A part of me suspects that the management of some companies know that the operations at the heart of their organisations are lousy and thus they deliver a lousy service. And they think that if they make it easy to complain then there would be a flood of complaints. So they make it hard to complain. Digging further, I’d say that behind this is the lack of desire/commitment to improving operations.

    Yes, it makes sense to make it easy for customers to complain. The funny part is that the companies that do listen to your advice have their ears sealed. And the ones that don’t are the ones that will read your post and might make it even easier to complain! Human life occurs as a paradox to me.


    • Hi Maz,
      What I find interesting is the irrational fear that seems to exist in our minds about the level of complaints that would ensue if we opened up ourselves to feedback. If we were that bad then surely we would be out of business. Right? (Note: excepting monopolistic players)


  • Pingback: Leadership News ()

  • Adrian

    Thanks for following up – it’s interesting to hear about the response you eventually received. The real test of whether it’s substance or just warm words will be whether or not things improve in future – I hope for your sake that they do.

    From my time managing a customer services department I completely agree that it’s important to make it easy for customers to deliver *unsolicited* communication. This is the first step to defusing a complaint. However we know that proportionately few people will do this, not least because they have become accustomed to the fact that it’s often a fruitless exercise.

    We found that it was even more beneficial to *solicit* feedback. Providing it is made quick and easy for the customer we found that checking for satisfaction after delivery of service resulted in consistent year on year improvements in customer retention and revenue. It was also far more effective in improving team performance (and morale) than training.

    From my more recent work at CustomerSure I now have proof from a much larger sample size of companies that making unsolicited feedback simple, and soliciting feedback sensitively and appropriately, constitutes a very effective way of improving customer retention and sentiment. Providing, of course, that the feedback is acted on quickly, individually and without fail.

    • Hi Guy,
      Thanks for adding your perspective.

      I agree with you that firms should be actively soliciting feedback rather than just waiting for people to speak up.

      However, I would guess that the challenge a utility firm like this would face is: how do they solicit feedback that doesn’t fall into the trap of being another seemingly spammy survey?


      • Adrian

        You’re right that soliciting feedback can sometimes be over-intrusive, or ‘spammy’…and despite selling feedback and complaint software I am on a personal crusade against spammy surveys! As is often the case, it is not the tool or technique that is inherently good or bad but how it is used, so I use the following analogy to help get the balance right:

        When you go for a meal, you don’t want the waiter to be impossible to contact, nor at the other extreme to intercept you as you leave with a clipboard and 10 minute survey. But during your meal a couple of ‘is everything to your satisfaction’ is usually about right (though it’s important also to be sensitive to the fact that some people will need more or less contact).

        Finding the equivalent context and frequency within one’s own business delivers the optimum customer experience (and therefore the optimum business benefit), and plays directly to the goal of ‘making it easy for customers to complain.’

  • Adrian,

    The letter is great. It includes an apology with ownership for the issue. It also includes follow-up on how they will fix their internal issues, both reminders and training for the employees and changes to their systems.

    But… and there’s always a “but” … two things:

    1. Why don’t they make it easy for you to contact them?
    2. Why did it take so long to respond when you finally found a way to contact them?

    I have been using this line with my youngest son lately… because he thinks an apology makes it all better… after about the third apology for the same infraction within an hour’s time: “I appreciate your apology, but it doesn’t mean anything if your actions don’t show that you mean it.” In other words, if your actions don’t change or reflect the fact that you’ve acknowledged what you did wrong and end up fixing it. In this case, not only do they need to do the things he addressed in the letter, but they also need to fix a broken communication system:

    1. Make it easy for a customer to contact you.
    2. Respond within X hours.

    When the entire process is fixed, then I can accept the apology. 🙂

    Annette 🙂

    • Hi Annette,
      Thanks for your comment.

      I agree that actions speak louder than words. But, adding standards to measure the effectiveness of their response, as you suggest, will make their response even more effective. However, all of this will be for nothing if they don’t fix the underlying problems.


  • Pingback: Annette Franz ()

  • Pingback: Customer Feedback ()

  • Pingback: Claude Oggier ()

Leave a reply:

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Site Footer

Ready to harness your inner CX punk?

I made a newsletter. It’s called Punk CX. You might not like it. Then again, you might.

Sign up here to find out.

Oh, there’s now a new book out of the same name. It’s mine too. Again, you might not like it. It’s like a very visual punch in the face for the CX industry.

Punk CX cover

Check it out here.