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A Complaint is a Gift

Moving Customer Complaints from Frustration to Satisfaction

Shep Hyken interviews Janelle Barlow, award-winning customer service and experience speaker, consultant, and author of A Complaint Is a Gift: How to Learn from Critical Feedback and Recover Customer Loyalty. She shares how to empathetically transform a customer’s complaint into a positive and memorable experience.

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  • Janelle shares these findings from the 2020 National Customer Rage Study (followed by our commentary):
    • 2/3 of people have a product or a service failure across their lifetime. Most customers who have had a negative experience do not tell the company directly. They either internalize it, affecting their decision to do more business with the brand, or they broadcast it to their friends across social media channels. You don’t just want to resolve a complaint. You want to find out the reasons behind the complaint and operationalize around it, so it does not happen again.
    • 58% of customers feel they were dissatisfied with how their complaint was handled. It’s not just about fixing the problem. It is how you fixed the problem. You have to create that feeling of engagement and connection that nurtures customer loyalty.
    • 65% of customers who are complaining are left filled with rage. When customers have feelings of rage, they often express it by yelling, swearing, or saying, “I’m never going to come back to you again.”
    • 47% of customers with a negative experience with a company post reviews online. Negative reviews, posted out of anger, are a customer seeking revenge. They don’t always post it on review sites. Most of the time, they post it on social media sites.

More Takeways

  • Handling complaints is a mindset. Leaders and managers must understand that people do not naturally know how to handle complaints. Most of us learn how to handle complaints from our families (for example, fighting with our siblings or complaining to our parents) and develop “go-to responses” or defense mechanisms that we then use when dealing with customers.
  • If you have the mindset that a complaint is a gift, you begin with a statement of gratitude. One of the most common communication chains is the “thank you – you’re welcome” exchange. When you thank the customer for letting you know there is a problem, you can mitigate the anger and start the resolution from a better place.
  • When employees feel supported by companies in terms of complaint resolution, they are happier and more effective. They don’t have to feel defensive or argue with customers. They know that all they have to do is ensure that customers walk away feeling happy and satisfied.
  • Plus, Janelle shares some guidelines to follow when responding to online feedback, both positive and negative. Tune in!


“Handling a customer’s emotional satisfaction is as important as resolving the complaint. You can handle the customer’s problem, but if they feel that they were treated poorly in the process, they still walk away feeling dissatisfied.”

“Engage with the customers in such a way that they don’t only have their complaints resolved, but they walk away feeling connected to you because you took care of them.”

“When you have the mindset that a complaint, or any kind of feedback, is a gift, you let go of the feelings of hostility and move into a space where customers feel more connected.”

“What customers really want is to be heard. When customers know they are being listened to, they will feel more satisfied and move from frustration to satisfaction.”


Janelle Barlow is a customer service and experience expert, trainer, consultant, and best-selling author. The latest edition of her book, A Complaint Is a Gift: How to Learn from Critical Feedback and Recover Customer Loyalty, is available now.

Shep Hyken is a customer service and experience expert, New York Times bestselling author, award-winning keynote speaker, and host of Amazing Business Radio.

This episode of Amazing Business Radio with Shep Hyken answers the following questions and more:

  1. What is the most used channel for customer service?
  2. How do you handle customer complaints?
  3. What is customer satisfaction, and why is it important?
  4. How is emotional intelligence used in customer service?
  5. What are customer interaction channels?

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