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Start Your Business Business Ideas

5 Ways to Turn Your Customer Complaints Into Business Ideas

5 Ways to Turn Your Customer Complaints Into Business Ideas
Credit: Shutter_M/Shutterstock

Do you cringe when a customer complains? If so, it's time to start thinking of those complaints as possible opportunities instead of problems – opportunities that could lead to new product lines, services or a new venture.  But how do you actually identify new business ideas hiding in your customer complaints?  Here are five tips to get you started. 

Be open to closing the gaps

To get useful inspirational tips and leads from your customers, they must know that you're open to hearing about the gaps in your product lines or services.

"Ask your customers what you could do better," said Kevin Barnicle, founder and CEO of IT consulting and software firm Controle. "This seems like simple advice but it is very powerful." Barnicle said that asking one of his customers this simple question uncovered a potentially profitable need that wasn't being fully met. 

While the customer acknowledged that the product Barnicle sold him did what it was supposed to do, the client needed more than the product provided.  As a result, there was a gap in communications between two critical teams in the client's company - the IT team and the legal team. "If you could offer a service to help me bridge that gap I would buy it," Barnicle recalled his client saying. 

When Barnicle left his old company and started Controle, he offered exactly the service the client had pointed out was missing, and even named it for the complaint. "Our Bridge the Gap service is one of our most profitable and popular services we provide,"  Barnicle said. "It was all created from a customer complaint." [Looking for a business idea? Visit our business idea section]

'Simplify' may signal business opportunity

Is there a demand for a simpler or faster version of your product or service hiding in your customer complaints?  This was the case for the folks at 99designs.com, an online graphics design contest platform.

"Our new products are a direct reflection of the feedback we receive from our customers and designer community," said Shayne Tilley, general manager of Swiftly. "A great example of this is our newest offering, Swiftly, a service for quick design jobs."

Tilley said that although customers are happy with the services they receive through 99designs, they often had other smaller or simpler jobs that didn't fit the service offerings of 99designs. "After our customers had their logo, website, banner ad, business card, etc., created on 99designs, they would ask us, "How do I get this updated or integrated with other existing marketing collateral like brochures, social media creative, et cetera?" Tilley said.  

And the 99designs team had the same problem with their own simple jobs - it didn't make sense to ask the company Web designers to stop working on important projects to complete something like a simple business card update, Tilley said. "Given that our customers were experiencing the same problems as us, we decided to do something about it and thus Swiftly was born," Tilley said. Swiftly lets customers post small design jobs and have them completed within one hour. "Our average turnaround time is actually 30 minutes," Tilley said.

Pay special attention to the loudmouths

Do you have a handful of customers that complain frequently? Instead of labeling them troublemakers, start thinking of them as your idea-generators.

"Realize that a customer that complains is sometimes the best customer," Barnicle said.  Though no one likes to deal with some who's constantly whining about something, Barnicle said the customers that complain the most usually are the most passionate. "If you can solve their complaint or problem, you will most likely have a customer for life," he said. 

Look to your own complaints

Are you a customer? Take a look at your very own complaints – there could be a new business hiding in your pet peeves. And chances are, if something isn't working for you, there are others out there with the same problem.

"In 2009, when I was moving, the shipping company broke my TV," said Girish Mathrubootham, founder and CEO of online customer support and help-desk company Freshdesk.  "I sent multiple emails to the shipping company, but they just asked me to jump through hoops and made no signs of intending to settle my claim."

Mathrubootham was so frustrated, he finally wrote about his experience in an online forum. Within a day, the shipping company paid him what they owed. 

"This experience taught me that customers have social power, and it inspired us to build a customer support solution that leverages social media," Mathrubootham said. Freshdesk now has 23,000 customers using their customer-support solution worldwide. 

Will your customers pay for a solution?

While there may be multiple new business possibilities in your customer's complaints, how can you find those that will lead to profitable new business?  Evaluate each complaint carefully. If the issue shouldn't have occurred, or been solved by the service or product they've already purchased, simply fix the problem. If not, it could mean there's a potential new business idea right under your nose – and to find out, ask.

"Simply ask customers," Barnicle said. "Be up front, and just ask them, 'If I could solve your problem would you pay for it?' Doing so you will immediately find out how much of a complaint it really is," Barnicle said. 

When one of Controle's clients constantly complained about inefficiencies dealing with a software manufacturer's customer support, Barnicle did exactly this. "We simply asked them, 'If we offered a service to take that completely off your area of responsibility, would you purchase it?'" The result?  A new service, and a new long-term contract.

"Solving customer complaints can be very helpful to organizations, and profitable for any company," Barnicle said. "We now provide that same service to many other clients, all of which came out of a customer complaint and a simple question. Would they pay for it"?"