Customer Complaints as Opportunities

If you are an early stage company or organization, you are coming up with a lot of ideas then building and rolling them out to your customers. It can feel nervewracking and vulnerable. So when your customers come back to you with complaints, it hurts. But you must resist the urge to defend your ideas. Rather, count to three and remind yourself that this is an opportunity to get useful feedback.

The hard part about opening up in this way is that customers will talk to you in “solution-speak.” They will offer you ideas (solutions) that don’t articulate the problems that they are really having with your product. And what you really need to understand are their problems.

Finding the right fit between your product and what works for your customers is an ongoing process. Organizations that succeed in this engage in a dance of listening to customers and innovating on what they discover about them.

To understand your customer’s problems and turn that understanding into insights and better versions of your product,  start with these three steps:

1. Gather data. Engage with your customer right there and then. Seize the moment and go deep. Make sure that you are listening more than you are talking. This has two benefits: You’ll get better data and you’ll make your customer feel heard. “Tell me more about that” is an excellent prompt. Or “How might you do it?” Again, they’ll be talking in solution-speak and that’s ok. It’s your job to decode all of that, not theirs.

2. Interpret data/articulate problems. Once your customer is gone, walk through the data that you gathered with your team. Look at the solutions that your customer offered and try to reverse engineer them back to the problems that you think they are responding to. It’s unlikely that the solutions they offered are the right ones. But the problems they are having are real and should definitely be acknowledged.

3. Revise, but only a little. You don’t want to do a complete overhaul of your product, service or system based on feedback from one customer, right? But you do want to tweak your existing offerings, just a little so that you can put something out there that will help you get even richer feedback.  For example, if your customer told you that you need to host a 3-month long job training program (solution), start off with a small experiment–invite a guest speaker to your space who can speak to available resources in the area or set up a networking night. Then at that event, go back to step one of this process. Gather data. Lather, rinse, repeat.