CX Science: let customers complain to you, so they don't complain to others
Customers who complain to you are less likely to spread negative word-of-mouth.
Complaining decreases dissatisfaction as customers vent their emotions.
Customers who spread negative word-of-mouth are making a public commitment which cements their dissatisfaction.
You are much better off if unhappy customers complain to you. Give them a chance and even nudge them slightly to do it by making contact channels more convenient.
Better yet, don't rely only on customers contacting you - reach out to them via surveys, for example.
For maximum impact, predict which of your customers are unhappy and proactively reach out to them to increase their satisfaction.
Complainers are just the tip of the iceberg
This is not to scare you, but you have more unhappy customers than you know about. If you are like most businesses, some people are going to complain to you via your own channels, such as email or toll-free number. If you are many other businesses, you complement this by running customer surveys.
That's a good start, but you still see only the tip of the iceberg, for many more customers wouldn't bother complaining or replying to a survey. Sometimes it's because it's inconvenient for them; other times because they don't think you'll do something about it; and then there is the fact that most customers wouldn't report minor product malfunctions and would just bear with them.
How to decrease negative word-of-mouth
There are two major issues with unhappy customers: they leave and they tell others about their negative experience. The first one is quite clear - no one wants to keep using something that is not doing the job it is supposed to.
Why the negative word-of-mouth though? One of the major reasons is that customers want to vent their emotions. Can you direct these emotions in a way that's less detrimental and if you do that, are they going to talk less about their negative experience?
Two scientists, Prashanth Nyer and Mahesh Gopinath set off to investigate; the full article is available here. They got 18 months' worth of data from "an independently owned automotive repair and service center" and had a look at the behaviour and attitudes of people who complained and those who didn't.
What Nyer and Gopinath found out can have a major impact on your complaint management policies. Customers who complained were twice less likely to spread negative word-of-mouth. Venting their dissatisfaction was enough to decrease the urge to tell others about it, thus doing much less harm to the business.
In addition, it is only among the group of people who complained that satisfaction increased considerably in time. Have a look at the chart on the right-hand side above. Satisfaction increase is full 5 times higher among complainers than among those who spread negative word-of-mouth only. Why? Because the latter group becomes committed to their view, which cements their dissatisfaction.
In a nutshell, it is much better for your business for an unhappy customer to complain to you. You clearly have much more control over the situation, and it also gives a way for customers to vent their negative emotions. This in turn makes them less likely to talk to others about any negative experiences and opens an avenue for increasing their satisfaction.
My best wishes for a great day ahead!