Listen for ideas in customer complaints

7 tips to use customer complaints as a market research tool

No one welcomes customer complaints. If you’ve answered the phone to them you’ll know what I mean. But it’s possible to find new insights into your product or service if you see complaints as opportunities. Look closely and you might identify hidden weaknesses. There may be areas for improvement or gaps in your product range.

Ideas in customer complaints stethoscope

It’s impossible to predict every scenario before a product goes live. Only the end-user can determine if a product has succeeded in meeting their needs. No matter how much pre-launch preparation takes place the only way to discover the sticking-points is through customer feedback.

  1. Let your customers know that you’re looking for feedback

    If you want to find ideas in customer complaints, first of all tell them that you’re listening. You could wait for customers to contact you when problems arise but you’ll learn more if you keep the conversation open. This way you discover potential problems right away before they escalate.

    Simple questions for your customers

    • Is there anything we could do better? This may be a change to the product itself or elsewhere in the offering.
    • Does our product do everything that the customer needs?
      • Or does he turn to additional products to fill the gap?
    • Are there more features than the customer needs? Is our product too complicated?
  2. Acknowledge customer input

    Ideas in customer complaints medal

    You’ll encourage feedback if you acknowledge the impact of customer contributions. When feedback does help towards a better product try to thank the customers who identified the problem in the first place.

    At the very least you’ll make those individuals more loyal. On a wider scale the market may see that you treat your customers well, plus you value innovation.

  3. Give weight to the views of actual customers over general market sentiment

    Your customers are engaged in your product. The rest of the market may have less experience of your brand. It’s clear whose opinions you should trust when looking for ideas in customer complaints.

    When you focus on customers alone, in effect this excludes competitors, which can be a problem with unrestricted feedback systems.

  4. Monitor social media

    In the days before the internet there were fewer options for dissatisfied customers. If a company wanted to look for ideas in customer complaints they could turn to a single organised file. Nowadays customers share feedback (and lots of it) across social media. And that happens whatever your preferred channel.

    If you’re scouting for dissatisfied customers a good technique is to search Google. Enter the product name plus terms such as ‘disappointing’, ‘problem’ or ‘alternative’. Dissatisfied customers in a particular sector often gather in the same place. They may use a specific forum or social media platform. Search for phrases such as ‘Why isn’t there…?’ or even ‘Pain in the ass’.

  5. Pay most attention to the loudest cries for help


    If there’s a really serious problem bearing down on your customers they’ll turn to you straightaway. Put yourself in their shoes to appreciate the impact in their lives. The bigger the impact for them the greater the priority you should give to finding a solution.

    Saving your customers has to be first on your list. So the situation may require an emergency fix. What you’re looking at is a pain point. It’s when the crisis is under control that you should review whether a long-term solution could provide a business opportunity.

    If you’re looking for step-by-step strategies to find a business idea see the post Find a niche and dominate a niche – top 5 best-selling books.

  6. Research whether customers would be willing to pay for your solution

    Often the most direct question is the most effective. Ask your customers if a solution would be worth paying for. This determines if the product idea is feasible in simple financial terms. If product development does go ahead you’ll have a starting point for a more comprehensive pricing strategy.

    Ideas in customer complaints can be tough to exploit…

    Catering for ‘underserved’ consumers is not an easy route for a new entrant to the market. Established companies often are in a position to modify their offering quickly. So a start-up needs to ensure that it has high barriers to emulation. This might take the form of an entirely different business model from current providers. For example, a start-up may decide to use short flash sales at discount prices when the rest of the market operates bricks and mortar retail. A simple upgrade (or downgrade) of product features is something that established competitors can easily copy into their own product line.

  7. And think about your own complaints

    Think about the problems you experience yourself with products in your daily life. If something doesn’t work for you then other people are probably experiencing the same dissatisfaction. Rather than put up with the pain consider whether you could develop a solution that would appeal to the market. This is the traditional path to success for many inventors such as James Dyson.

Get your team on board. If you want to find ideas in customer complaints then you’re going to have to involve everyone who speaks to them. This research can only be done in the real world by talking to the real experts. Your customers. You may know the difference it makes when you attack a complaint with enthusiasm, I certainly do. Still, I can’t say I’m entirely looking forward to the next one…


Listen for ideas in customer complaints
Listen for ideas in customer complaints
7 tips to look for ideas in customer complaints. Customer feedback can reveal new insights, identify weaknesses or gaps in your offering.
  • Hi Donald,

    Excellent points you brought up here.

    I have to say number 3 is my favorite. So often people will bade their opinion on what’s tending.

    We would never process of people were not researching, challenging ideals and so on.

    You can definitely tell the difference from a rant on what everyone else is saying and a genuine cry for help.

    Thanks for this Donald!

    • Hi, Steven, good to see you.

      I like number 3 too, it makes a big difference when it’s a real customer doing the talking. All that feedback makes for a real chance of progress. It’s so easy to sit back and think there’s nothing more to do :)

      Thanks for commenting and sharing, I really appreciate it.

  • Hey Donald,

    Wow, you really covered some great points.

    Luckily for me with the few products I’ve personally released myself I’ve only had one complaint with my very first one and I jumped to respond quickly and resolve her issue. I refunded her the purchase since she was so upset but after helping her with the issue she had she was ready to give it back to me. All I asked was her testimonial and she gave a glowing one.

    I can put myself in the customer’s shoes of course and know that all it really takes is to just respond in a timely manner and help me to the best of your ability.

    I love how some companies are monitoring social media now and responding when they are given praise or helping when someone is complaining. I think just knowing that we’re being heard and that they’re doing their best to make it a better experience for us and product or service, that means the most to me as a customers.

    Thank you for sharing all of these and I’ll definitely keep them in the front of my mind as I release more products down the road myself.


    • Hi, Adrienne, I’ve just been over at your blog :)

      I was amazed to hear you’ve ever had a complaint :) It sounds like you must have handled it really well to get a testimonial out of it. Maybe that should be a target for every company?

      I agree that social media is making the whole thing more joined-up, like knowing that someone’s going to respond. There doesn’t seem to be the same results on the phone.

      Thanks for taking note of the points, I’m sure you’ll never get enough complaints to put them into practice :)

  • This is interesting! It is a nice way to know how you can solve your customer’s problem and start making your business more effective!

    • Hi, Pierre, thank you, it does wrap the two things together nicely, doesn’t it?

      Thanks for commenting :)

      • For sure! It is a win-win!
        One thing that I learned online is that you are never the only one to face a specific problem. It will help new customers also!

        • Win-win, I like that, cheers :)

  • Hey, Donald,

    What an awesome share – love this subject. :-) You’ve got an awesome persepctive – making something positive out of something negative!

    You brought up some excellent points to share, Donald, and I really like how you suggested we give more emphasis to actual customers over the general market… I absolutely agree – we have built up a relationship, know each other, which makes sense I would give them precedence over others.

    You’re right, social media plays a huge role in customer service – what a great source for finding a certain target audience’s pain points!

    Absolutely agree with you about putting myself in my customer’s shoes. I have definitely tried to do this from the beginning because my mantra is treat others as I would like to be treated.

    However, this brings to my remembrance one special time when I had helped someone via email over and over again, yet he wasn’t taking action on my advice. He ended up getting impatient and finally nasty. I understood because I know he was frustrated and confused. There is never a reason to be that way though.

    You can bend over backwards to help others, but they don’t always use the advice the best way. Just like you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.

    Great takeaways can be enjoyed though, and we can glean much wisdom from these experiences. Will definitely be keeping your points in mind as I’m working on my new product. :-)

    Loved your article, sharing with friends…

    Have a wonderful day.


    • Hi, Carol, nice to see you.

      Learning from customers who have a relationship definitely makes more sense than listening to the opinion of anyone who happens to have something to say. I think the customers of Carol Amato are in a privileged position!

      I’ve a feeling in your case you don’t get a lot of complaints, you’re probably so aware of what your customers want. You’re sort of using these points in advance.

      Interesting about that customer you helped over and over and he didn’t listen. I suppose there are always some people who aren’t ready to hear what’s wrong.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, speak soon.

  • Hey Donald,

    Great post. Although no one wants to get complaints … it’s almost inevitable for it to happen. It;s just the nature of things. You create a product, not every will like it.

    But you can learn from it.

    #5 really speaks to me. Because if you have multiple people who have similar issues and it’s apparent that those issues are major, then you need to address those quickly.

    Also, monitoring social media is key. Not every one will express their displeasure directly to you, and may choose to air out their frustrations on social media. So you have to be on top of that as well.

    Great post here.

    – Andrew

    • Hi, Andrew, thanks for dropping by.

      You’re bang on about no one wanting complaints. But, yes, they do happen. I’m guessing they don’t happen much to you, though :)

      It does seem to be the key point is learning from it. Sort it out then learn from it.

      Thanks again, have a great day!

  • Hi Donald,

    Awesome article! :)

    You know, from the beginning I realized that the customer complaint is one that is good for improving our products. And this article convinced me about it. :)

    Indeed, if we listen to customer complaints well and received positive value from it, then it could be the fuel to expand our product to make it better.

    The more complaints, the more input..hehe :)

    Thanks for sharing this with us, Donald.
    I will start to share it right now. Also, I love the quote as well. ;)

    Have a great week ahead!


    • There’s definitely a two-sided aspect to complaints, both good and bad. But it’s not always easy to see that…

      I’m pleased you like the quote, it seemed just right for the post.

      Thanks for commenting, Nanda, speak soon!