It’s very natural for us to hate it when someone complains about our company, products or even our work. But the complaint almost always represents a great opportunity — and an opportunity that should never ever be squandered.
When someone complains, it is typically because an incident has occurred that goes well beyond the person’s level of tolerance for a mistake. Complainers are also almost always passionate and will share their complaint with others. In the Internet age, this means that a complaint can easily go viral.
And one other facet about complainers that I have found to be common…they expect their complaint to be ignored. If they were open to the possibility of a positive response, they would be working the company’s channels to get a resolution that would satisfy them.
For all of these reasons, the complaint represent a great way to create a positive experience that may go viral too and turn an upset client into a raving fan.
When a complaint is made, I try to respond immediately and preferably by phone. Most of us have heard the statistics that body language and tone are more important than content in a conversation. And since in most cases, getting a prompt face-to-face conversation is difficult, the phone is the next best thing. At least, I get the benefit of managing my tone so that I can get a clear picture of the root cause of the upset. And in this digital age, they get a human who is more able to be humane.
I also employ the “rational person” approach whenever possible. I explain that most people and companies are not looking to upset their customers, and while it is human to make a mistake or even mis-communicate, it is rarely the desired intention. If I was inadvertently the cause of the upset, I explain the circumstances and underlying reasons for my actions. And if I was wrong, I apologize and inform the person of the actions that I will take on their behalf to set things right.
If it is my company or a colleague that is being accused of an improper action, I always ask for the opportunity to look into the matter and report back. My colleagues tend to be rational people too; so their actions are likely not to have been done with the intention to cause upset. We agree on a time frame by which I get will get back to them. And then I keep my promise and call them back even if I have not completed my “investigation.”
The return call is an important step because a complaint really is another way of expressing that “one cannot be trusted.” And the best way to rebuild trust is to keep a promise, no matter how small or insignificant that promise is.Solutions
This approach has served me very well. In all instances that I can recollect, the other person is first genuinely surprised to find someone is listening to their complaint (remember, they might not be complaining if they thought someone would care about the problem) and even impressed when the promise of a return call occurs. And frequently, their request to be made whole is not unreasonable (the “reasonable person” approach working the other way).
Most important, the request is nearly always dramatically less than the lifetime value of the client relationship or the cost to acquire a new customer.