The Two Kinds of Complainers

by Sharlyn Lauby on October 13, 2010

I learned a long time ago, there are two kinds of complainers in this world – walkers and talkers.

Walkers are the ones that don’t tell you anything is wrong.  They just say “fine” and once they’re out of sight, they never return.

Talkers are the ones who tell you something is wrong.  Sometimes very loudly.  They might ask to speak to your supervisor.  But they let you know they’re unhappy.

Pop quiz…which one do you want to deal with?

IMHO, you should always want a talker.  Because talkers give you a chance to fix the problem.  And when you fix the problem, you keep the customer and possibly even create a raving fan.

With a walker, you never know what went wrong.  You just know the customer is gone.  Of course, if this happens too many times…you’re in big trouble.

This doesn’t just apply to dinner at your favorite restaurant or buying shoes at a department store.  It also applies in our interactions with employees.

Do you want employees who tell you when things are not right?  Or do you just want them to say everything is fine and once they’re out of sight, start looking for another job?

Creating a mechanism for feedback is essential.  Whether it’s for your employees or your customers.  You need to know what they’re thinking.

Every time you get feedback, acknowledge it and thank the person for it.  Someone took a lot of time, energy and possibly guts to give you their opinion.  If the feedback is something you don’t agree with or you have no intention of implementing their suggestion, that’s OK.  At least thank the person for sharing their thoughts with you.

One of the worst lines I’ve ever heard back after giving feedback is “We don’t agree with you.”

The unspoken rule in customer service is there will always be people you don’t agree with.  But you can demonstrate good customer service by saying “Thanks for the feedback.  We take all of our customer’s suggestions seriously.”  You didn’t commit to doing anything.  And you left the door open to get that customer back.

Leveraging the feedback of your customers and employees can be a key competitive advantage.  How do you encourage feedback?

Image courtesy of mandiberg

{ 10 comments }

Jesse Goldman October 13, 2010 at 11:31 am

I encourage feedback by actually doing it – leading by example and regularly sharing feedback with my team. It makes it easier for everyone to give and to receive feedback of all types (e.g. positive, constructive).

By “feedback” I don’t mean performance reviews, quarterly appraisals or the like. Instead, I’m referring to quick, ongoing dialogue – a simple way to start a conversation, proactively checking in on a regular basis to get ahead of issues. It works for me and, according to recent studies, this can have a big impact on engagement, retention and business results: http://rypp.ly/arE7HI.

I agree that it’s better to work with a talker than with a walker though sometimes walkers bring really important and unique skills to your team. Feedback plays a critical role in creating alignment, engagement and even turning some walkers into talkers :)

Sharlyn Lauby October 13, 2010 at 3:15 pm

Thanks for the comment Jesse. I really like your remark about turning walkers into talkers. It’s not easy but taking the proactive steps you talk about could help make that happen.

Gina October 13, 2010 at 3:59 pm

Sharlyn-
There are always going to be those people that are never happy unless they have something to be upset about. I see it all the time. They complain about everything- when you try to fix what they are upset about, they have a new complaint about the new way things are done. These are the people I would rather see WALK. Majority of the time feedback is good- but for those that you can not please- it can be a frustration. :)

Sharlyn Lauby October 14, 2010 at 10:37 am

Very true. And at some point, it could make sense to let them walk. I can’t help but think that comes after trying to reach a common ground. Thanks for the comment Gina!

Randi Busse October 17, 2010 at 3:24 pm

I’d much rather deal with a talker than with a walker. In my workshops as a Customer Service Trainer, I explain to employees that a complaint is a gift. The customer wants to do business with you but something has gotten in the way. What they’re really saying is : “Fix my problem so we can go back to the way things were”. Customers don’t want to look for new companies to do business with. They want to continue the relationship, but sometimes we make it difficult for them to do so.

If a customer walks, you may never know that there was a problem, what it was or that it needs to be fixed.

If someone is complaining, thank them. It truly is a gift and an opportunity for you to fix things for not only this customer but others who many not have “talked”, but just “walked”.

Sharlyn Lauby October 17, 2010 at 7:19 pm

So true, Randi. So true. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Satish Sallakonda October 20, 2010 at 11:29 pm

Great Article Sharlyn! Especially with “walkers” its very possible they don’t like to be put in uncomfortable situation and hence the reluctance to say anything. Some of this could be alleviated by the other person (like in your example could be a service rep or senior management) to take multiple opportunities and make it clear that they are open to receiving feedback and make the customers / their team comfortable about the policy / work culture.

Sharlyn Lauby October 21, 2010 at 3:41 pm

Thanks Satish! I also wonder if sometimes “walkers” don’t give feedback because companies equate complaining with “I want something for free.” It might be difficult to believe customers would give feedback with no expectation of getting something in return.

Lara October 22, 2010 at 4:18 pm

This is an excellent article. Gen-Y (my generation) is often faulted for being “talkers” – complaining about the way the office works. I don’t think this should be attributed as a negative attribute; Gen Y’s goal is to make workplaces more efficient and productive! We’re expecting to be heard because we believe everyone has the same goal (to want the workplace to be the best it can be). So while it may be truly annoying to hear Gen Y explain where they’re finding faults, it definitely is an opportunity to improve something!

Sharlyn Lauby October 23, 2010 at 11:02 am

I agree that companies need to embrace feedback. And, it’s equally important that people (regardless of their age) understand the proper way to give feedback. I’ve seen great suggestions get totally dismissed because of the way the idea was presented. Thanks for the comment Lara!

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