Ah please talk to me
Won't you please talk to me
We can unlock this misery
Come on, come talk to me

I did not come to steal. This all is so unreal
Can't you show me how you feel
Come on, come talk to me

Another Peter Gabriel lyric came to mind in a discussion around the value of customer complaints.

I recently read and posted on a Forbes article suggesting that firms should actively encourage their customers to complain. Essentially the point was that, in a world where we are all trying to delight our customers, understanding why they complain - indeed, actively encouraging these complaints was a great way for a company to gauge how they were performing when it comes to delivering a competitive customer experience.

My problem is that this is only part of the story and taken on its own is a potentially harmful perspective. Studying complaints will tell you a lot about why some of your customers complain but will tell you nothing about why others are absolutely delighted with your product or service. For many years now I have been concerned by a growing kind of one-dimensional causality used by certain analysts.

This crops up in more places than you would expect – people study divorce to understand about marriage; we study unhappy customers to understand the happy ones; employers study disgruntled employees and even hold exit interviews in the vain hope that this will in some way help improve the workplace and help us better understand our staff. People say we learn from our mistakes. No, we learn about our mistakes by analysing our mistakes – they tell us nothing about our successes.

And that's my point there's nothing wrong about encouraging your customers to complain and analysing those complaints if the aim is to learn why your customers are unhappy. Just don't think it will tell you anything about why others are delighted.

This all came into sharper focus while having a discussion at a recent startup boot-camp style event somebody proudly told me how their MVP (minimum viable product) had this amazing return loop for capturing feedback on the features that didn't work well or that customers didn't like or want. So, I casually asked: "What about the stuff they love? How do you encourage them to tell you that?" The silence was palpable and was accompanied with the kind of look "wrinklies" like me are getting used to.

Of course you should analyse why customers discard your product or ignore certain features but don't think that will tell you anything about why others keep it and focus on certain features. Success, like failure has its own configuration and needs to be studied.

If you are opening a dialogue with your customers you need to focus on the good and the bad; what they love as well as what they hate. Like any great conversation it needs to have the light and the dark if you ever hope to understand the whole picture.

So come on; come talk to me.