Complainer Typology: The Psychological Dimension

Today, customers’ expectations of services are changing because of many elements, social and technological factors being the most significant ones. This is exactly why people have become less tolerant of bad service and more vocal about venting their grievances. Nevertheless, ‘understanding the complaining customers’ typology can certainly help companies interpret complaint situations and thus engender a thoroughly customer-focused culture.

Types of Complaining Customers:

  • Aggressive Complainers: Aggressive customers are the angry customers. They are more likely to switch company and spread negative word-of-mouth too.
  • Passive Complainers: This group of customers doesn’t complain to the company rather they actively spread negative word-of-mouth. They believe that complaining would be futile to begin with.
  • Constructive Complainers: The aim of constructive complainers is to reach a proper resolution in a rational manner. They are most beneficial to a company.

Professional Complainers and Benign Neglect by the Companies:

A professional complainer is someone who complains for other people about the products, services to the companies that are unable to perform as promised. These are the people who are paid to complain about something. From resolving complaints about lemon automobiles to a box of Twinkies, these people have sure helped the customers in making their voice heard and know how to work their way to get better customer service, however, they do not exist in very large in numbers.

On one hand professional complainers right the wrongs, but on the other hand there also exist complainers who just kick up the fuss for all the wrong reasons, usually to get a freebie. Some of the examples for this could be taking what customer service rep say completely out of context and then kicking up a row, asking for a product that a company doesn’t even stock etc. They are not ready to be satisfied in the first place and sometimes cause frustration to other customers as well.

Case Study:

One such example of professional complainers is a company called Rent-a-Kvetch that used to charge customers in order to get their problems resolved. “I am a cross between a shrink and a lawyer”, says the owner of the company, a professional complainer, B.L. Ochman.

“Some people are not constitutionally suited to complaining… You have to be willing to insist on what you want, and a lot of people are not comfortable doing that, particularly Canadians”, thus, legitimately justifying the label and purpose of her company. And in order to make the complaint heard, the strategy that this professional complainer employs goes like this, “I really think the phone is an ineffective way to complain. I always go right to the top and I always let it filter back down to where it should be handled to begin with. When you use the phone, other people have the ultimate weapon: they can hang up on you. And there’s no record that you called. So, it’s best to write a letter. Customers are the most valuable thing a company could have. Yet people are treated like dirt on a very regular basis. So they want somebody to listen to them. Mostly, they want people to say, ‘That’s terrible. Let’s see what we can do about that.”

In her opinion, if the customer wants to get his gripe noticed, being polite won’t just cut it, rather a proper assertion needs to be made. “They sold you something that doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do, and they owe you something that does what it’s supposed to do. It’s that simple. You have a right to complain. They’re wrong. You’re right. And you just have to start out by being assertive”, she says.

Another instance of professional complainers is of Sandy and Gary Rattigan, a couple from Massachusetts that used to run a company called ‘Complain to Us’. They charged $50 an hour for helping customers in resolving their complaints. Whether it was about refunds or apologies, they claimed to have succeeded 65% of the time.

Dealing with Belligerent Customers: Listening is Important But so is Communication:

When having face-to-face interaction with an angry or dissatisfied customer, always let him express his grievance instead of interrupting him. Listen to him. Even the body language of customer service people should reflect the concern that they have for their aggravated customer i.e. there should be active listening, eye contact and expression of concern. Let them know that you are listening and concerned with their situation. Once the customer senses that and calms down, then communication can take place.

However, if the customer is unusually angry, aggressive, emotional or abusive, staying calm is the best but also a difficult strategy as human nature is all about defending oneself and retaliating when faced with confrontation. However, that instinct certainly needs to be checked when you are a customer service rep.

Case Study:

The NYPD (New York Police Department) serves as a very good example in this context. In 1993, when Mayor Rudy Giuliani was incumbent Mayor, the crime rate dropped by 57% and the percentage of murder went down by 65. New York City once used to be highly infamous for its unsafe streets but now has been acknowledged as the safest big city in America by the FBI. The reason for this huge breakthrough was New York City’s law enforcement strategies. One of its strategies included the STOP technique. This strategy proved to be highly effective when police dealt with aggressive or belligerent people. In STOP

S stands for Signal, T for Take control, O for Opposite and P for Practice.

Signal: Everyone shows some physical signs when they are angry like frowning, clenching jaws or standing with arms akimbo. Recognizing that bodily signal is important.

Take Control: When a customer confronts you, do not get personally involved. Remember that he is shouting at your badge and uniform not at you, so stay calm.

Opposite: When confronted with an angry or aggressive person, do the opposite of your signal as it will help you stay calm.

Practice: Keep practicing this because practice makes a man perfect.

Not only this strategy helps one calm down and elude the confrontation at hand, but also prevents them from becoming personally aggravated, involved or upset.

Answering the Written Complaints:

Along with the face-to-face interactions, companies cannot afford to blow off the written complaints. Even the smallest of comments are extremely important to the customers and should be taken seriously and followed up.

Nevertheless, there are certain rules that should always be applied when responding to the customers in writing.

The response should be personalized never automated and friendly. Send acknowledgment after the complaint is made, which has to be quick and should also include an apology. This would reflect your concern and make the customer realize that you think that he his important and that you take him seriously. Furthermore, the language has to be correct, where spelling customers’ name is the most important part.

Something Groundbreaking Called “Social Media Complaint

Today, when people are profoundly fixated with technology, there is no doubt that they take to social media to vent out their concerns. So, what companies are doing today is that they respond to their customers’ gripes on facebook and twitter right away. Logging complaints on social media is much faster and easier for customers than letting themselves get fobbed off on phone or email.

Nevertheless, when it comes to social media there are five types of complainer personas as identified in an article by the University of Florida. These types help in understanding and then responding to the customer according to his disposition. The typology is as follows:

  1. The Meek Customer
  2. The Aggressive Customer
  3. The High-Roller Customer
  4. The Opportunist Customer
  5. The Chronic Complainer Customer
  • The Meek Customer: When having a gripe, the social action of a meek customer is rather feeble. Instead of taking it to the higher authorities and dumping his dour remarks right on them, this customer just posts a comment on twitter or facebook at most, and only a simple “I’m sorry” makes up for the whole inconvenience.
  • The Aggressive Customer: As the name suggests, the complaint from an aggressive customer is always loud and lengthy. In order to deal with them, being aggressive in return, however, would not be the right way, rather listening, agreeing and then quickly solving the problem would turn them into brand advocates. Moreover, an aggressive customer should never be dealt with on social media, instead it would be appropriate to approach them directly through email or messaging.
  • The High-Roller Customer: This customer always expects the best service out of a company and is even happy to pay to get it, however, he complains in a reasonable manner and they are interested in getting results.
  • The Opportunist Customer: The opportunist is someone who is interested in something more than just resolving complaint and also want to receive additional something to which the customers are not entitled. The fact that nothing can ever please them is a sure sign of customer being an opportunist. However, the social response to them should be ‘what can I do to make things right?’ and the opportunist would most likely to go offline then.
  • The Chronic Complainer Customer: The mere name makes it really clear that a chronic complainer is never ever pleased with any resolution. You cannot live with them but also can’t live without them. So, the best route could be sympathizing, apologizing and resolving the situation without getting angry and there is a fair chance that they would eventually become good customers.

Social Complaint Management:

Although there has been some aggressive investment in the social CRM lately, yet it has not evolved to its fullest as complaining customers still have to face lag in responses sometimes where they may already be expecting prompt two-way communication. Therefore, given that the customers are always online, connected and highly interactive, the challenge here for the companies is to establish social web credibility by being highly responsive.


In 2012, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the UAE’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, wasn’t very pleased with Etisalat’s customer service when he constantly kept receiving unsolicited text messages despite having asked for them to stop it. “I ask Etisalat to please relieve us from advertisement texts and news services’ messages, which I have asked to be stopped on my phone,” Sheikh Abdullah tweeted in Arabic. When there was still no response from the company, he again tweeted, “I apologise to Etisalat but I will tweet every message I receive until they stop this inconvenience.” After a number of such tweets Etisalat responded to the minister through its official Twitter feed, “Good evening, your highness. We have received confirmation on cancelling the SMS service. Please inform us in case the issue persists.”

And speaking of constructive complaint management, recently, the Roads and Transport Authority has asked passengers to make complaints and suggestions on its Twitter and Facebook pages so that services can be improved even more. “We have to invite complaints and suggestions because this means we are listening to our audience,” said the spokeswoman for the authority, Dr Aysha Al Busmait. “Listening to them makes life easier for us – if we know what people are complaining about then we can solve it. Managing the service is a real challenge but for people it is easier to tweet us than call a call centre and we are confident that we now have a clear policy and procedure to deal with these requests and are ready to respond”, she added.

No matter how hard businesses try, complaint management has always been thought to be proverbially dour by the customers. Customers do not like companies turning a deaf ear to their requests, especially today when speedy technologies help spread the word like a raging wild fire, hence also giving rise to negative spillover effects. Whether in the virtual or real world, complaint management should be about reaching suitable solutions and that too regularly.