Pay Attention to Customer Complaints – They May be Disguised Opportunities

pay attention to customer complaintsWhat do you do when a customer complains about something on the project? Are you abrasive? Defensive? Apologetic? No matter what happens, no matter whose fault it is, we should always be apologetic. Not that the customer is always right, but if they are upset at all then we need to be concerned. Twice I did not take my own advice and I lost my clients over it. Lesson learned.

But let’s go further. Let’s listen carefully. What are they complaining about? I’ve changed my way of thinking. In reality, complaints are opportunities. Either for us to improve our service and possibly create some new avenues with that client, or the basis of the complaint may a need the customer has that they do not yet recognize as a need…they are just expressing it now as a frustration…a complaint. Listen well…and then act…

The Unhappy Customer

That concept really struck me. It’s sort of like Lessons Learned from a project standpoint. I’ve always liked to approach my customer relations like this – every comment is important and any negative feedback means there’s something that needs to change to make this customer happy.

It may be that they’re not receiving the proper information, or it’s not timely enough for their liking or needs. Or they feel that decisions are being made without their input or approval. Or they’re not pleased with the performance or availability of a resource on the project. Or maybe they’re just not happy with how the PM is handling tasks. At any rate, they’re not happy and they’re complaining to someone.

Take it Seriously

Those complaints can’t be taken lightly, even if you feel they are unjustified. Each complaint is an opportunity to draw yourself closer to the customer. An opportunity to fix a problem, fill a need, right a wrong, or ease a stress. It may be nothing, but acting quickly and aggressively and letting the customer know that whatever it is that concerns them concerns you too is critical. It’s critical for three key reasons:

  • It lets your customer know their concerns are your concerns
  • Your customer knows they are being heard and problems will be addressed
  • As the PM in charge, you have begun to mend your reputation with the customer which has already been damaged to some degree just because there is a complaint – even if that complaint isn’t with the PM’s performance or even concerning something within the PM’s control

Document Well, Document Often

Be sure to also document all complaints and issues that are brought up by the customer. Treat them just as you would any other issue on the project – put it on the on-going issues list, track it, discuss it during the weekly status calls and follow it till it’s resolved. Your customer will be pleased that their issues and complaints have high visibility and are being addressed promptly. In many of the companies I’ve done work for those weekly formal status reports are visible to everyone on up to the CEO so the customer will understand that their concerns are getting the highest visibility and attention possible.


Your customer is everything…and without them there is no project and no revenue. Treat their concerns, complaints and issues with the highest priority and attention – even if you feel there is no real issue. Make them aware through some visible tracking method and ongoing discussions that the issue is being addressed. Just knowing they are being heard and addressed will make customer satisfaction rise significantly and will likely lessen the frequency of future complaints. The last thing we want is for a client to think they aren’t being heard, their complaints aren’t being addressed, and their needs aren’t being fulfilled.

Brad Egeland
Brad Egeland

Noteworthy accomplishments:
*20 year provider of successful technical project management leadership for clients across nearly every industry imaginable
*Author of more than 4,000 expert professional project management and business strategy articles, eBooks and videos over the past decade
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*The most read author of expert project management content on Project Times/BA Times for 2015
*Named most prolific provider of project management content over the past 5 years
*Noted for successful project management and financial oversight for $50 million Dept. of Education financial contract/program
*Chosen by the Dept of Defense as a subject matter expert (SME) to help select IWMS software provider for the largest IWMS implementation ever awarded

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