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What stops dissatisfied customers from complaining?

You can’t fault the sentiments that prompted the dry cleaner to display this message behind the counter:

If you’re satisfied with our service, tell your friends.
If you’re not, tell us.

Happy customers who describe their positive experiences to friends and neighbours create convincing word of mouth advertising that no one can buy. Dissatisfied customers who complain give us an opportunity to correct the problem and rebuild their trust and loyalty.

Unfortunately, human nature doesn’t work this way. Most satisfied customers accept the good service they receive and tell no one. Unhappy customers, on the other hand, seem to delight in telling everyone...except the service provider... about their negative experience. Their acquaintances often retell the tale, usually with a little embellishment. The service provider is denied the opportunity to make things right. If only they could get customers to complain to them!

There appear to be four reasons that service providers don’t hear as many complaints as they should:

  1. Customers don’t believe that complaining will make any difference. Nothing will be done to correct their problem. This is just the way things are. Nothing will change. It’s not worth the hassle.
  2. Customers don’t believe anyone cares. Each feels that he or she is only one person. The business has so many other customers. Why would they be concerned about one little person and one little problem?
  3. Customers don’t know how to complain. Where do they go to complain? What are the procedures? Who do they talk do? What should they say or do? What information should they supply?
  4. Customers are afraid to complain. What will happen to them if they complain? What will the service providers say about them after they leave? How will they be treated the next time they come in?

Rather than complain, customers find it easier to take their business elsewhere. Service providers are left wondering where their customers went and why. They must continually search for replacements for the customers who left.

When a customer does complain and the service provider responds quickly and fairly, the customer is much more likely to remain loyal than someone who has never had a problem. They feel they can trust the service provider to correct future problems if they arise. Moreover, customers who have had a complaint resolved quickly are more likely to “tell their friends” than those customers who have always received “satisfactory” service.


Nelson Scott offers several Customer Service Presentations, including Customer Service MAGIC: Changing Complainers into Loyal Customers; What Your Mother Taught You About Customer Service and other Training Resources developed by Service Quality Institute and the Vital Learning Corporation.


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© Nelson Scott.  All rights reserved.

A professional trainer, speaker, and consultant since 1995, Nelson Scott works with organizations that are committed to making the right hiring decisions, developing and retaining productive staff, and strengthening relationships with customers.  Learn more by visiting or e-mailing


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