4 Ways to Focus on the Silent Majority — Customers Who Don’t Complain


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Recently I read a disturbing a quote from a senior executive … “For every one person who complains there are 99 in favor You listen to the 99 percent.” It reminded me of another quote from 10 years ago: “96% of unhappy customers don’t complain, however 91% of those will simply leave and never come back.”

In the customer service and support world for years we have obsessed over those customers who reach out to contact us for help, focusing on service levels and attempting to save customers who complain, but shouldn’t we also pay attention to those who do not complain, the silent majority? In our first book The Best Service is No Service 1 we encouraged companies to “make it really easy to contact your company” in order to obtain more feedback from your customers, even (especially!) those who complain, and today we can see many more channels where customers can express their “voice” including burgeoning social media options, text messaging and SMS, and web chat.

But this is not enough to be able to hear from your customers who do not bother to reach out to you, but may harbor the same upset as those who do and are apt to leave when given the chance, and you never had an opportunity to save them. When you do realize that they have left “customer winback”2 strategies might bear some fruit it’s usually too little, too late and is very expensive. Far better to understand their reasons for frustration now, deal with them one by one and systemically (a another key Principle from The Best Service is No Service that we repeated, for emphasis, in our second book Your Customer Rules!3)

Here are four approaches to consider in order to focus on the silent majority who do not contact you for support:

1. Apply a new metric: Propensity to Complain (PTC)

20 years ago when I led Amazon’s global customer service we opened a new web site in Japan, with an excellent team eager to help customers in need. We sized this team based on our experience in the earlier Amazon markets (US, UK, Germany, and France) but were surprised that we received far fewer contacts per order shipped (the #1 metric to track “customer ecstasy”, the lower the better, the crux of The Best Service is No Service). At first we thought that the Amazon.co.jp launch must have gone off flawlessly but then we began to worry, especially when my customer service head Osamu Taniguchi told that customers often opened their call or email with “We are sorry to bother you …” and he said that there we were probably many others who decided not to complain.

Over the years since then I’ve encountered similar disparities in the rate of contacts by country or by region, and so I’ve been researching it using a new metric that I’ve been calling the “Propensity to Complain” or PTC. Some academicians have studied PTC-like situations but it’s not widely used, yet should be. Consider: When companies launch new services or pricing, customers in high PTC regions (like the US Northeast) or countries (like Italy) will complain 2-3 times as high as those in low PTC regions, and if it’s not taken into account then support staffing in retail shops or contact centers will not be able to handle demand, or it will be unevenly distributed, or executives will unfairly penalize the higher PTC markets. Does this make sense? Do you have your own examples to share?

2. “Get out there!”

Here are the first four recommendations from one of my first white papers4:

  • 5% solution = All senior managers and executives, especially those not in customer service, should spend 5% of their time talking with customers or listening to live calls with agents or playing back recorded calls or reading email/chat threads. Every time we’ve encouraged them to do this, executives come away with 3-6 areas to address or fix that will help the silent majority;
  • Bcc’g = Send blind copies of all email or chat threads that contain key words of interest to senior managers and executives;
  • Kiosks = Set up video kiosks in retail shops so that customers can talk directly with customer care specialists; and
  • WOCAS = Ask your front time staff to record “What our customers are saying”, now available in an online tool with the same name.

Have these approaches worked for you?

3. Search for the contractions and “the why’s”

I have written often about applying speech and text analytics to unearth customer complaints or latent issues and here’s a handy tip: When customers use contractions such as “this doesn’t work for me” or “shouldn’t this be as easy as Amazon treats me?, or when they pepper you with “the why’s” like “why is this happening to me again?”, you have a potential gold mine to attack root causes.

Are you doing this yet? With Big Data and other mining techniques it’s getting easier and less expensive, with excellent returns.

4. Call them!

I’ve saved the best for last. Once you determine which of your customers have not contacted you recently, or ever, instead of resting on your laurels and assuming that they are happy (as we briefly considered at Amazon Japan), simply call them! You will be shocked to discover how many of them harbor the same frustrations being reported by those who do bother themselves to contact you, and how appreciative they are when you take the time to call them.

Are your idle customer service reps tasked to do this? Are you calling your silent majority?


1The Best Service is No Service: How to Liberate Your Customers From Customer Service, Keep Them Happy, and Control Costs Bill Price & David Jaffe (Wiley 2008). Based partly on my years as Amazon’s 1st WW VP of Customer Service, but also on “Best Service” providers around the world who have made it easier for their customers to do business with them, we proposed 7 Drivers that start with “Challenge demand for service”.

2 An excellent guide is in Jill Griffen & Michale Lowenstein’s book Customer Winback: How to Recapture Lost Customers and Keep Them Loyal.

3 Your Customer Rules! Delivering the Me2B Experiences That Today’s Customers Demand (Wiley/Jossey-Bass 2015). There are 7 Customer Needs that Lead to a Winning “Me2B” Culture; each Need breaks down into a total of 39 Sub-Needs.

4 “Get Out There!” published 6 August 2002 (!), available upon request.


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