What drives people to complain ?

Over the years we have undertaken a lot of research to understand what drives people to complain. It’s a complex subject and clearly one that has some common areas of understanding. MIT in Massachusetts did research on this as well and have come up with some interesting conclusions.

But lets look at what instigates a complaint and how the consumer chooses to articulate that complaint.

There are two areas, which have interested us the most. The first is the trigger, and then the trigger threshold. The second looks at how the consumer vents- do they raise that complaint in a store or do they look to possible anonymity online.

It would appear from the MIT work and our own focus group, that there are some primeval instincts at work here. Without question complaining is easier than ever before and the consumers ability to complain has been increased a hundred fold by the availability of the Internet.

In our focus groups we found that there is a basic belief amongst all respondents that underpins their views.

Yes despite focusing on their ability to complain, consumers and residents believe strongly in the concept of fairness and reasonable behavior.

But what really drives an individual to action is a perceived breach of trust. This trust threshold is somewhat like a thermometer in a pan of water as actions are taken which fail to resolve or cure the problem; the temperature of the thermometer goes up.

The boiling point is not always the same, and is determined by shared values with that brand or developer.

It could be that the consumer feels loyal to that brand, or possibly the personal relationships built with that brand through previous experiences – all allow a slower rise to boiling point.

Hence the boiling point is constantly on the move depending on actions taken to mitigate the situation. For example at a leisure attraction the action taken of closing a ride, whilst people are queuing to gain entrance pushes the thermometer upwards- “ Thanks folks sorry for your wait -we are closed, I am afraid” – the boiling point is getting closer.

It’s interesting because many professionals have a view that their customers or residents are serial complainers – in most cases this is just not the case. The same consumer for example may argue vociferously over the quality of a cappuccino, but may choose to ignore a below standard hotel room.

MIT substantiated this and found what triggered customers to go on line was not one single event but what they called a double deviation, a breakdown of a product or service, with either a low prospect of resolution or a failed attempt.

In our focus groups consumers put huge value on mutual trust and have lost total confidence in the age-old idiom that the customer is always right, but they do feel that there are acceptable parameters beyond which a response is required.

All those questioned in the focus group understood that by going on line and complaining on one of the review sites –a bad review could be potentially damaging to the business.

All those questioned understood how potentially disproportionate to the issue raised the reaction might be, but pointed to a lack of customer service policy and disengagement by the product or brand.

Many of those individuals in the focus group who admitted to posting negative reviews online and in traditional media pointed to amateurish responses, which exacerbated the situation.