Jannelle Barlow and Claus Moller, the two authors of “A Complaint is a Gift” were ahead of their time.

They wrote this forward thinking book around customer loyalty back in 2008 – as the concept of customer loyalty and customer feedback as scientific processes were very much in their infancy. Today these concepts are all around us. We’re constantly reminded as business owners how important it is to retain customers versus the costs of winning new ones.

No-one likes to receive complaints.

Yet this is the method by which customers tell us how to run our businesses and our organizations.

– Barlow & Moller

A Complaint is a Gift is a book on the value of a customer complaint – written by Dr Janelle Barlow and Claus Moller. (You can check it out here.)

The main message of the book is close to our hearts here at Customer Thermometer.

They say that customer feedback is a strategic tool often overlooked by businesses.

Are you really listening?

A customer said to me recently on the phone – “Mark, I really like the service, but….” And no one likes to hear a ‘but’, do they? He went on…

“I just wish we had more negative feedback”.

I thought about this for a while – at first, that statement just didn’t make sense and then the penny dropped.

It’s great to know things are good – but if you have customers telling you when things aren’t good (instead of being silent), you have a chance to fix things and make things right.

Customers who go silent are the worst kind.

Most businesses are focused on complaint-reduction. But what if we actively encouraged complaints? What if we solicited feedback, both good and bad, from all our customers in an attempt to get an accurate picture of how our business or team is performing?

Some companies conduct customer satisfaction surveys to learn more about hidden complaints. This is a good idea to a point.

But who normally participates in such surveys? Existing customers. Unless the company makes a point to ask everyone… it is polling only those people who are still buying.

Company satisfaction surveys are generally not a representative survey of dissatisfied customers. 

– Barlow & Moller

The effective handling of complaints and subsequent speedy service recovery are the very best opportunities to show what highlight to customers that we really care about their concerns. By asking everyone who buys we give ourselves the very best opportunity to keep customers happy and resolve issues we were previously unaware of for future customers.

Andrew Gibbons has written a very good summary of the book, which you can download for free at his website.

Our 5 step process for soliciting complaints the right way

We’re thinking of running a campaign to ban the word “survey”. It’s a word which is being increasingly associated with negative connotations. Surveys take time. Surveys are tedious. Surveys require effort.

Customers actually like to be given a mechanism to provide feedback. Sadly, most of the time, the mechanism isn’t fit for purpose.

It doesn’t have to be like that. For the last 6 years we’ve helped our customers overcome survey fatigue.

So, if you’re looking to uncover complaints, disappointed customers or other issues, here’s our 5 step process on what to do.

1) Tell your customers that you’re going to ask for feedback regularly and that it’s going to be light touch.

2) Use a great feedback tool, such as Customer Thermometer to ask for feedback at the point of transaction OR in a services business, to ask for feedback on a regular basis – such as monthly.

3) Follow through – commit to implement and test for 6 months minimum. Involve everyone. Make customer feedback a valuable part of your business.

4) Respond in the right way, to an agreed service level to any complaint, however minor. The Service Recovery Paradox is a brilliant thing.

5) Identify common issues and fix them at their source.


Interested in trying out a brilliant feedback tool to implement this process? Of course you are…