I am often asked, what is the connection between the people who complain and those who have a problem, but do not make their voice heard by making a complaint? The people who do not make complaints are sometimes called the silent majority – because, in most contexts, there are more people who do not complain than those who do.
Firstly, there are variations by country, topic, and the process for making complaints. For example, a study by NOP (now GfK) found that in Sweden 41% had made a complaint in the last 12 months (the UK was 36% and Australia 30%), whereas in Taiwan just 1% had made a complaint in the same time period (Saudi Arabia was 3% and China 4%). France, where I am based while writing this article, was 17% .
In the US, the CBBB (Council of Better Business Bureaus) reports on complaints received. According to the report, in the US, there are more complaints about Telcos and Auto companies than other sectors. The same two industries headed the list from a report in Oregon .
If you make it hard to complain (e.g. having to write an email) then you will get fewer complaints than if you make it very easy to complain. For example, asking NPS from every customer and then asking everybody who scores in the Detractor range if they want to make a complaint (we refer to these as 'Hot Alerts').
What statistics are available about complaints?
Here are some references, mostly related to the US:
• 96% of unhappy customers don’t complain, however, 91% of those will simply leave and never come back (Source: 1Financial Training services)
• For every customer complaint, there are 26 other unhappy customers who have remained silent (Source: Lee Resource)
• A dissatisfied customer will tell 9-15 people about their experience. Around 13% of dissatisfied customers tell more than 20 people (Source: White House Office of Consumer Affairs)
The general message is this: for every complaint you receive, it is likely there are many more people who are unhappy but have not complained – the silent majority.
What can I do about it?
There are several ways of finding out about your silent majority. For example, analysing the ratio of complaints to actual problems, and the nature of the problems being faced by customers.
The simplest way is to run a survey asking people if they have ever had a problem with the service; if yes, what was the problem, did they complain, if yes, how did they complain, if no, why did they not complain. In conjunction with basic descriptive data (e.g. demographics, customer type etc), this allows you to find out what customers mean by problems, how they complain, what ratio complain etc.
The survey method is based on memory, so a more complex, but potentially more accurate method would be to combine satisfaction feedback, collected when the service or product is used, with data about the number of complaints received. The experience data will tell you how many service failures happened and the complaints database will reveal the ratio of problems to complaints.
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