How Complainers Can Help Your Business

My Business Manager, Zan, recently told me a story from her previous job at an elevator company. Her best customer called and complained almost daily about the elevators in his facility. These weren’t safety problems or even major concerns. She finally determined that the source of Mr. Complainers frustration was that he couldn’t give informed responses when people in his facility complained to him. Zan began proactively calling “Mr. Complainer” each time there was an elevator issue at his facility – usually before he learned about it from others. Zan’s courtesy calls cut his complaining down to ZERO. When people complained to him, he now had answers to give them.

Zan isn’t the only person who encountered Complainers each day as I discuss in this recent TV segment:

Sharing this information worked so well that Zan began apprising other clients. She found they appreciated the communication and it helped build relationships and loyalty. When someone is venting or acting unprofessional about your services or products, try to remember that they are also stressed and probably receiving pressure from another source.

When you attempt to understand the situation and their position, Complainers can actually help your business.

Complainers often provide helpful information – but they don’t present it well.  People who take the time and energy to complain by identifying a problem area in your business or department are really doing you a favor.

For example:

  • A client who points out a glitch in service delivery can help you retain other clients.

  • A vendor who identifies areas of concern helps the company ensure contracts are fulfilled for others.

  • An employee who gripes about a frustrating policy gives you an opportunity to fix what may be affecting other employees.

Help people provide constructive feedback instead of complaining by using these tips:

  • Listen to a Complainer without judgment.

  • Don’t try to explain your point of view.

  • Don’t blame.

  • Show appreciation of the information, “Thank you for bringing that to my attention.”

  • Highlight mutual interests, “It sounds like this isn’t working. Neither of us wants that.”

  • Show empathy but monitor “yes” and “you’re right” responses. The complainer may not be correct.

  • Use phrases like, “Taking all that into consideration, I can see why you feel that way.”

  • If you are in the wrong, say, “What can we do to make this better?” or “What do you think is fair.”

  • Don’t dwell on the past. Spend 90% of the conversation focusing on the future. “Let’s build on what we’ve done right and get this issue resolved.”

Don’t disregard a complaint because you dislike the way it’s presented to you. If the Complainer is unprofessional, a poor communicator, or uses bad language try not to automatically dismiss the message. If the complaint is valid, address it. However, you and your people are NOT a punching bag. There is a point where venting can turn into harassing or demeaning language. You both may need to take a break to calm down so you can have a more productive conversation.

Companies and business leaders who address complaints effectively often build much greater loyalty in their customers and employees. In your attempt to understand the situation, show empathy for the Complainer.  The actions you take could help save an important customer, a valued partner, or a critical employee both now and in the future.

Journey On and No Complaints! 

P.S. The elevator business, like any business, has its ups and downs. The secret is to know which buttons to push, to avoid getting stuck, to have good companions and make it a smooth ride whenever possible. Elevator humor is simply the best!