Is annoying your service users a good way to build community action?

Closing a library can upset a lot of people
Closing a library can upset a lot of people

Deliberately setting out to upset and annoy people isn’t an approach I’d routinely recommend, but please stick with me.

Here are three things to think about, and how they might be combined to help to build better communities that can deliver the services they require:

  1. Doing something wrong, and then putting it right, builds stronger brand loyalty.
  2. Closing the local library/hospital/school/park really gets local people annoyed and quite often results in a strong community response (a protest group).
  3. Every community has assets that can be used to help that community.

1. Putting something right to build brand loyalty. This seems to be a well accepted approach in the world of customer services and retail. The basic idea is that if you do something wrong, and then put it right, your customers will be really pleased with you. So pleased with you that they will become much more loyal customers, or ‘raving fans’ as the marketing types like to say. The people who complain are the passionate ones, the ones that care about your product, and the ones you can work with.

There is a fair bit written about this idea in books like ‘A Complaint is a Gift’ and online sources like ‘UP! Your Service’ where Ron Kaufman talks about ‘When Service Goes Wrong, Bounce Back to Improve Customer Loyalty’.

I have heard about this in connection with Dell Computers who apparently resolve 97% of complaints and 40% of those who complained are turned into ‘raving fans’. What sparked my interest in this approach was an anecdote about how British Airways handled customer complaints, unfortunately I cannot find a link to it. If anyone has more detail about it (or it’s just an urban myth rolled out on training courses) I would be very grateful.

Based on what I’ve experienced I don’t think the concept is widely understood or applied in many public services.

2. Closing local public services gets local people annoyed (and upset). I don’t  think I need to expand upon this point very much.


Here is a picture of Margaret Willoughby who chained herself to a bookcase in the protest to save Rhydyfelin Library from closure.

There will be many examples of local groups who have done the similar things to save their, park / hospital / school / day-care centre or any other public service that is facing the axe.

The Rhydyfelin Library Support Group site is with looking at as an example of a highly motivated community getting organised and achieving what it set out to do. Powerful community groups often develop in these situations.

3. Every community has assets. Have a look at this video of Cormac Russell explaining how communities can do incredible things, and why governments need to allow them to do  this. Cormac talks about every community having assets and the importance of working with what a community ‘has’ and can contribute, rather than what it doesn’t have or what public services can provide. The is a lot of helpful information about Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) on the Nurture Development site.

How do these things join up?  Have I made any sense so far? I did ask for you to please stick with me, here is my logic:

  1. Public services are going to be doing things that will annoy service users over the next few years.
  2. Closing some facilities looks inevitable.
  3. Local people will get very annoyed and upset.
  4. Many will organise themselves to fight against the closure.
  5. These are passionate people, people who care – the ones the customer services experts from retail say that you could turn into ‘raving fans’.
  6. Stick with me here – this is the scary bit.
  7. Work with these people to come up with a better solution, they aren’t the enemy.
  8. Have a look at the video from Cormac Russell for ideas how this might work.
  9. At the end you might have a vibrant, engaged community delivering services for itself.

Obviously, setting out to annoy and upset your service users isn’t what most public services would do deliberately. However, if you are going to do unpopular things, you could use the ‘annoyance’ for a positive purpose. Look out for who gets most annoyed. These might just be the people who could help you make things better and the ones you need to work with the most.

Finally, the community group that forms to protest about a closure could have far greater benefit to the community for years to come. They might not end up as ‘raving fans’ of the council / health board, but they will be doing good for the community.

So, What’s the PONT?

  1. People who complain about products or services are worth listening to, carefully, they care.
  2. The ‘complainers’ may have the answers to the problems, or may even help you solve them.
  3. Think about using potentially difficult decisions to identify the ‘complainers’ so that you can work with them, and help develop something that has a long-term benefit.

One last thing, there is a very relevant quote from Margaret J Wheatley, “All change, even large and very powerful change, begins when a few people start talking with one another about something they care about”. I suspect this might have happened at Rhydyfelin Library.

Links:  Copyright, Ron Kaufman. Used with permission.Ron Kaufman is the world’s leading educator and motivator for upgrading customer service and uplifting service culture. He is author of the bestselling “UP! Your Service” books and founder of UP! Your Service. To enjoy more customer service training and service culture articles, visit


Nurture Development

About WhatsthePONT

I'm from Old South Wales and I'm interested almost everything. Narrowing it down a bit: cooperatives, social enterprises, decent public services, complexity science, The Cynefin Framework, behavioural science and a sustainable future. In 2018/19 I completed a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, looking at big cooperative enterprises and social businesses in NE Spain and the USA. You can find out more here:

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