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Marketing, customer satisfaction and loyalty
Satisfied customers will follow you everywhere

50% of companies do not apologise when they respond to a complaint

Here are the results of an analysis we conducted on a sample of 226 companies that responded to an online complaint posted on the French-language forum Les Arnaques, probably the most active and most substantial in the field in Europe (now closed but archived). We presented these results as well as a proposal for a new conceptual model of politeness analysis at the 5th International Conference on Rhetoric and Narratives held on 25-27 March 2013 at ESADE Business School in Barcelona.

Among other findings that can be seen in the presentation below, we found that 27% of the companies provided an inadequate response on content; in other words, they answered “off the mark” and sent the complainant a reply that had nothing to do with the subject of the complaint. This is worrisome.

A customer complaint is an opportunity

Rather than seeing customer complaints as an annoyance, let’s see them as an opportunity to do better. This is the view that I support and it is also the view of Prof. Moshe Davidow whom we had a chance to interview in March 2020. In the sound extract below, he discusses the state of customer complaints management in 2020, good and bad practices.

The link between politeness, customer satisfaction and loyalty

It has long been shown that the successful handling of a complaint results in a paradoxical outcome: customer satisfaction after the fact is more important than customer satisfaction if everything went well, in other words, if the customer did not have to make a complaint. A complaint allows the company to show the dissatisfied customer how much he or she counts and to show how customer satisfaction is at the centre of its priorities.

The conceptual framework used so far is that of “Perceived Justice“. Without going into details that might seem too “scientific” (if you want to know more, the presentation below will help you to acquire the necessary knowledge, and will help you to continue your quest for information on the subject, see the proposed references). Let’s say that the theory of “perceived justice” postulates that customer satisfaction following a complaint can be analysed along three axes: distributive justice, procedural justice and interactional justice. Interactional justice brings together “soft” elements that relate to the appreciation of the company’s interlocutor in the treatment of the complaint: empathy, honesty, … and politeness. Thus, politeness influences interactional justice, which in turn affects customer satisfaction, which in turn influences customer loyalty.

Advice for your marketing strategy

A customer complaint is an opportunity. Marketing theorists say that a customer who complains has decided to “give the company a chance” to repair the damage caused and is inclined to continue his or her relationship with the company. In other words, a customer complaint is an opportunity to retain the dissatisfied customer. Conversely, an unsatisfied customer who does not complain will walk away from the company.

Customer complaints are also an opportunity to collect ideas and suggestions to improve your products and services radically. This requires that you are equipped and have procedures in place to use customer complaints as a means of innovation. If you would like to explore how complaints handling can help you increase customer satisfaction and loyalty, why not send us a message?


Pierre-Nicolas est Docteur en Marketing et dirige l'agence d'études de marché IntoTheMinds. Ses domaines de prédilection sont le BigData l'e-commerce, le commerce de proximité, l'HoReCa et la logistique. Il est également chercheur en marketing à l'Université Libre de Bruxelles et sert de coach et formateur à plusieurs organisations et institutions publiques. Il peut être contacté par email, Linkedin ou par téléphone (+32 486 42 79 42)

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