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Healthy Skepticism Library item: 2068

Warning: This library includes all items relevant to health product marketing that we are aware of regardless of quality. Often we do not agree with all or part of the contents.


Publication type: book

Barlow J, Møller C.
A complaint is a gift. Using customer feedback as a strategic tool.
San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler 1996



Demonstrates why complaints are the biggest bargain in market research, and how companies can use this information as a strategic tool to increase business
Offers a complete Complaints Policy that readers can implement in their companies
Presents dozens of real-life striking examples of poor-and excellent- complaint handling


A Complaint Is a Gift is a “how-to” book for those who want to turn complaints into a strategic tool to increase business and customer satisfaction. Presenting dozens of real-life striking examples of poor-and excellent-complaint handling, Barlow and Mller show that companies must view complaints as gifts if they are to have loyal customers.


Customer complaints can give businesses a wake-up call when they’re not achieving their fundamental purpose-meeting customer needs. Complaints provide a feedback mechanism that can help organizations rapidly and inexpensively shift products, service style, and market focus. Unfortunately many businesses dodge responsibility for a customer’s dissatisfaction, believing that complaining customers are trying to get something for free or that the problem is the customer’s fault. Businesses who don’t value their customers’ complaints suffer from costly, negative word-of-mouth advertising.

A Complaint Is a Gift shifts the paradigm about how complaints are viewed by business. By presenting dozens of striking examples and research studies, Janelle Barlow and Claus Mller show that companies must view complaints as gifts if they are to have loyal customers. A Complaint Is a Gift is a “how to” book for those who want to turn complaints into a strategic tool to increase business and customer satisfaction, and to learn something new about products and services. It is filled with practical guidance:

o how to behave as if complaints are gifts
o how to use communication principles to handle upset customers
o how to respond to written complaints
o how to handle personal criticism, and more

A Complaint Is a Gift also tells how to create complaint-friendly organizations by encouraging customers to speak out. It outlines communication structures that can facilitate the movement of complaints from frontline staff to upper management, allowing customer-identified problems to be fixed within the company. Complaint-friendly cultures are described in detail, and specific structures are suggested that can be adopted by companies interested in becoming complaint-friendly.

A Complaint Is a Gift repositions the role of complaints in business-and argues that handling customer complaints is not just about making customers feel better. It is a book for individuals and companies to deal with complaints in a new and refreshing way. It also brings together three decades of customer dissatisfaction research and shows how companies can use this information to change internal policies and practices.


“A Complaint Is a Gift is itself a gift. This is a jewel of a book about the most important issue in the development of any person or organization-how to respond to feedback from others, especially when it isn’t flattering or positive. Follow the authors’ eight-step Gift Formula, and you’ll be richly rewarded. Ignore it, and you’ll pay dearly.”

Jim Kouzes, coauthor of The Leadership Challenge and Credibility
“This is simply a terrific book, chock-full of thought-provoking concepts and ideas that are just plain smart. I have found few business books to be this useful. I plan to review it regularly to keep me on top of my craft.”

Dianne Snedaker, President, Ketchum Advertising, San Francisco
“Occasionally a book comes along that gives valuable tools that can be readily applied. A Complaint Is a Gift is a true gift of wisdom and marketing power.”

John R. O’Neil, President, California School of Professional Psychology
“An easy-to-read and easy-to-understand book containing relevant, real-life examples. A Complaint Is a Gifts is a must for any business library.”

Dr. Dame Rose Kekedo, Personnel Controller, Steamships, Papua New Guinea
“A Complaint Is a Gift offers step-by-step methods on how to institutionalize a customer-feedback-friendly environment. This book is a paramount tool to close the gap between customer expectation versus experience and to achieve the ultimate goal-service excellence.”

Hans R. Hauri, General Manager, China World Hotel, Beijing, China
“Success in the airline business starts with understanding what your customers really want. Barlow and Mller provide some powerful insights into how companies, large and small, can turn negatives into positives in the never-ending quest for customer loyalty.”

Rod Eddington, Managing Director, Cathay Pacific Airways Limited
“I became totally engrossed in this book, which is an excellent tool for every continuous improvement program. I particularly liked the emphasis on encouraging complaints in order to see the full picture of customer satisfaction. The discussion questions at the end of each chapter enable readers to immediately begin their new approach to encouraging, resolving, and using complaints.”

Robert Riley, CEO, Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group
“The messages customers give to their suppliers are vital for the continued existence of companies. The importance of this communication and the proper use of it may be more crucial than even the most elaborate strategic plans. Barlow and Mller have given us a great gift and research in the field, placing it in the real world through case studies, examples, and very good advice.”

Paul Hegedahl, Editor-in-Chief, Leadership Today

Table of Contents
Introduction-The Customer Speaks
Part I: Complaints-Lifeline to the Customer
1. A Complaint Is a Gift Philosophy
2. Complaints-The Biggest Bargain in Market Research
3. What Dissatisfied Customers Say, Do, and Want
4. Why Most Customers Do Not Complain
5. The Link Between Complaining Customers, Service Recovery and Continuous Improvement

Part II: Putting a Complaint Is a Gift Strategy into Practice
6. The Gift Formula
7. Turning Terrorists into Disciples
8. Responding to Written Complaints
9. Ouch! That Hurts! Handling Personal Criticism

Part III: How to Make Your Organization Complaint Friendly
10. Generating More Complaints: Toll-free Numbers and Other Tactics
11. Creating Complaint-Friendly Policies
12. Developing a Complaint-Friendly Culture
13. Creating a Complaint-Friendly Environment for Internal Customers
14. Implementing a Complaint-Friendly Organization



Introduction to the first part of the book

When customers feel dissatisfied with products and services, they have two options: they can say something or they can walk away. If they walk away, they give organizations virtually no opportunity to fix their dissatisfaction. Complaining customers are still talking with us, giving us an opportunity to return them to a state of satisfaction so they will be more likely to buy from us again. So as much as we might not like to receive negative feedback, customers who complain are giving us a gift.

If we shift our perspective in this way to see complaints as gifts, we can more readily use the information the complaints generate to grow our own businesses. Customer complaints are one of the most available and yet underutilized sources of consumer and market information; as such, they can become the foundation for a company’s quality and service recovery programs. This is no small gift!

In order to better understand complaining customers, Part 1 of this book examines the behavior and desires of dissatisfied customers. With understanding comes acceptance. We must welcome these complaining customers and make them want to come to us with their feedback.


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