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Arun Hariharan

Quality Insider

The Customer’s Tale

Why complain when I could just walk away?

Published: Friday, September 28, 2012 - 11:03

I’m a customer. One morning last week, I visited my bank for a small requirement that should have taken about two minutes. However, there was a big line and 27 people were ahead of me. This was my fourth visit to this bank for the same requirement. My work remained on hold until I could resolve this issue. But worse was to come.

About a half-hour later, the employee at the counter decided to take a break. She told the waiting customers that she would be back in 20 minutes. Some customers protested, but she told them curtly that they could come back the next day if they weren’t prepared to wait. That said, she disappeared into an inner room.

Should I send a formal complaint? I was of two minds. It didn’t seem worth the trouble. “Why am I even dealing with this bank?” I thought. “Especially when other banks are eager for my business?” In fact, I already had an account with another bank, which provided much better service. I didn’t really need this bank account.

Three minutes later, my decision was made. It was easier for me to just stop doing business with this bank and close my account. Why bother about writing a complaint? Given this bank’s attitude, it seemed unlikely it would do anything about it, anyway. To me, the customer, the employee at the counter is the bank. Her attitude is the bank’s attitude.

That was last week. Today, I closed my account with that bank. I don’t think I’m going to miss them at all.

The bank’s tale

Of late, we’ve had trouble keeping our customers. The worst part is that most of them don’t even bother telling us what the problem is; they just go away. We wonder why.

We do get a few customers who send us formal complaints, but we are sure those are isolated problems. After all, among thousands of customers, there will always be a few who are never satisfied. We can’t spend our time looking at these isolated cases.

However, we’ve just got approval for a substantial sum of money for a big ad campaign. We are sure once we get the word out, customers will start coming back and business will pick up.

The bank’s tale six months later

We’re shutting our doors permanently because we don’t have any customers left. How we wish we had listened to those customers who took the trouble to complain and tell us what the problems were. But we thought they were pests. We now realize—too late, alas—that while most of our customers experienced poor quality service, only a tiny minority bothered to tell us about it. The vast majority just left-without a warning. We realize now what a big favor those complaining customers were trying to do us, if only we had taken them seriously.

The customer (as always) has the last word

I see that bank I left is now out of business. I guess many other customers found it easier to take their business elsewhere, just like I did. It was much simpler than writing a formal complaint. Businesses need to realize that a complaining customer is doing them a favor. If a company wants to survive, it must take responsibility for the information the customer passes along. A complaining customer is not a pest but a valuable resource.


About The Author

Arun Hariharan’s picture

Arun Hariharan

Arun Hariharan, author of Continuous Permanent Improvement (ASQ 2014), and The Strategic Knowledge Management Handbook (ASQ 2015) is a strategic quality, knowledge management (KM), and performance management practitioner with nearly three decades of experience in these fields. He has worked with several large companies and helped them achieve substantial and sustained results through quality and customer focus. He is the founder and CEO of The CPi Coach, a company that provides partnership, consulting, and training in business excellence and related areas. Former roles held by Hariharan include president of quality and knowledge management at Reliance Capital Ltd, and senior vice-president of quality and knowledge management at Bharti Airtel Ltd, India. He is a frequent speaker at quality and KM events around the world. He is also the author of more than 50 published papers on quality and KM.


customers "fairy" tale

Yeah, Arun, I think you did it right, the Bank and all the Suppliers who play such music deserve it. Yet, as a "man for Quality", who I think I am, I cannot but regret that after so many years' efforts we are still at this point: Shouldn't we perhaps walk away from some Quality prejudice? Thank you, and don't be angry: USA and Italy banking systems are very close each other. 

Simple and direct to the point

I really enjoyed reading this article since I've been included in several patient satisfaction meetings, as of late.  They said that companies and organization that stood the test of time and economic hardship have two things in their hand useful for survival: 1. The most wonderful product and 2. The most excellent service.  Thank you for sharing this.

American Airlines could have learned from this

I still recall American's reply to Jim Harrington's column on poor service. AA said mistakes that affect passengers are "inevitable."