The Silent Dissatisfaction: Why Customers Choose Not to Complain

Silent Dissatisfaction

It's widely accepted that most dissatisfied customers choose to remain silent and not express their dissatisfaction directly to the business (although many of them won't hesitate to voice their complaint publicly, for example, on social media). It's worth noting that many of them want to complain but aren't encouraged to do so. 

Basically, this "inertia" can be due to one of the following reasons:

It's a complicated process and requires significant effort. Many don't complain because they believe it will be a psychologically exhausting process, involving effort, fatigue, stress, disturbance, agitation, and a waste of time. Sometimes, the company makes it hard to complain, such as asking the customer to download an app or fill out a lengthy form and submit it during specific hours or days. Often times, the customer doesn't know where to complain (for example, there's no specific form on the website or social media, a phone line for inquiries/complaints).

The customer feels it's not worth the effort. Most customers will only complain if they believe there's a chance their complaint will be heard and the problem will be resolved. Why bother complaining and waste time (especially if the product is of low value) if the company shows it doesn't care? Many may have complained in the past and found that nothing changed. 

The customer is ashamed and dislikes confrontation. Many customers may not feel comfortable writing a letter or making a phone call, feeling embarrassed to complain face-to-face or in front of others. They prefer silence over confrontation, especially when they are in a relaxed mood (e.g., out with friends to have fun) or on vacation. Also in some cultures, it may be considered impolite or taboo to complain openly, leading customers to keep their grievances to themselves.

The customer has nothing to gain. Customers may not have the time or may believe that returning the product will cost them extra money. They might believe they won't get what they want or have nothing to gain. For example, the customer doesn't see the point in reporting the rude and inappropriate behavior of an employee, as it won't benefit him.  

Fear of "repercussions." Sometimes, there's also a fear of retaliation (e.g., businesses threaten customers with lawsuits if they write negative reviews). Especially when there's inevitably a long-term relationship (e.g., a mother of a child in elementary school avoids complaining about the teacher, who she believes ignores her son, fearing she will find out and continue to isolate him). 

Familiarity or uncertainty about the outcome. Often, the customer doesn't want to upset the owner, especially when a personal relationship has developed between them, as with the local grocer or fruit vendor, or even with our favorite restaurant. Often in these cases, they say what they want to hear.

The decision is final. Finally, there are customers who aren't willing, for their own reasons (e.g., they were passing through or don't intend to visit the same place again), to give the business a second chance. Moreover, today, in the electronic age, the competitor is just a click away. Therefore, they have no reason to complain and simply turn to the competitor.

John Protopapadakis is a marketing and customer service/complaint management expert. He has been an author, a professor, a consultant and a seminar instructor. As a keynote speaker his speeches are content-rich and motivational.{alertInfo}

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