Complainy O’Complainerson is Your Friend

UnlikeI faced my fair share of complainers when I was blogging at Microsoft. You know…”evil empire”, “apple rulez” kind of stuff.  Successful is the blogger whose blood-pressure doesn’t go up when on the receiving end of an online zinger.

The question of why we are so emotionally attached to the brands we work for is a topic for another day. No matter whom you work for (sorry, just can’t make correct grammar happen right now), someone is going to think your employer is a big jerk, or have a problem with their products, or their marketing or their customer support. I’ve been on both sides of that equation. Like this time here. And this one Oh, and this one. Oh, there’s more. When you blog for eight years, you have to talk about something.

Most brands ignore unofficial complaints lodged online (and as you can see, what’s memorable for me is when they aren’t ignored). Some go into “make-it-go-away” mode (the words “sorry you feel that way”) come to mind. Fewer still show genuine concern and do what they can to resolve the problem.

What companies generally don’t do is thank the complainer for lowering their marketing costs. But they should. Because whining about product issues online does two things for companies:

First, it’s free customer research. Companies spend good money gathering customer insights.You know, finding out how people feel about the new Cool Ranch Dorito Taco relative to the Nacho Cheese Dorito Taco. How they feel about the packaging, the value, the color, the buying experience, competitors similar products. Seriously, all of that. And though the complainers might be the squeaky wheel (or represent the extremes of delight and displeasure), that research, which frequently comes with startling detail, is absolutely free. And now for the self-serving bit: I work with companies to capture these insights online and product perception studies. And when I see the complainers, I think “Oh…data….wheeee!”

OK, second, the online complainers give brands a stage where they can become the champion. Wine.com did a good job of that in one of my examples. Vocal critics are also frequently vocal advocates when companies do right by them. Do I still by from wine.com? You betcha! How frequently? We don’t need to talk about that.

Marketing Profs has a post today about the different types of complainers. It’s interesting, but first and foremost I think companies need to have a system for capturing the complainers before they start worrying which category each of them falls into.

I always tell clients that the marketplace is having a conversation about your brand and it’s your decision to participate or not; but the conversation doesn’t just go away because you ignore it. I haven’t frequently told them they should thank the complainers, but I’m thinking about starting to.