News & Blog

How to Stay Sane in an Era of Instant Complaints

In my desk, I have a file of articles I’ve saved over the years. I was reminded of one recently. It was from Inc. magazine in the late 1980s. At that time, there were hoards of consultants and trendy business books preaching about “zero-defect” processes in manufacturing, services, etc. In order to make their case, they gave examples of what would happen if we only strived for 99.9 percent performance:

  • 881 plane crashes at Chicago O’Hare International Airport every year
  • 11,000 drug prescriptions filled incorrectly each day
  • 75 newborn babies dropped at birth by doctors every week
  • 2,000 checks deducted from the wrong account each hour

The consultants said the goal should be nothing less than 100 percent.

100 percent perfect products coming off the assembly line.

100 percent customer satisfaction.

Of course, this is impossible.

Which leads me to this blog’s topic: customer complaints.

Thanks to websites like Yelp and Google Reviews, it’s easier than ever for customers to air their dissatisfaction with companies online for the world to see. They can even post photographs and videos. Often, these negative comments appear near the top of search results, magnifying their impact and distorting the typical customer experience. What’s worse, they may not even be true.

Many of my clients find this infuriating. And rightly so.

There are usually three reactions when a negative comment is discovered.

First is denial. How could a customer be so upset with us? It’s not possible!

Second is anger. This must be a competitor or a disgruntled employee.

Third is acceptance. It’s there, so how do we make it go away?

I’d like to suggest a different path: appreciation. No, I’m not crazy. While there will always be people who are never satisfied, these complaints give company owners and CEOs the chance to hear customer feedback unfiltered by managers or other front-line staff (who may be covering issues). If you see a negative review, post a response. Personally. Identify yourself and ask the person to contact you directly. Hear them. You may learn something about your operations that you didn’t know. You may uncover a problem that’s bubbling under the surface that, if left unaddressed, could spell big trouble. If you’re able to resolve the issue, politely ask the customer to revise their complaint.

You can also encourage positive reviews simply by asking. Give each customer a buck-slip with their receipt, asking them to review your business. Follow-up emails work, too.

The complaints also serve another purpose. Inspiring you and your staff to satisfy each and every customer. This is an admirable goal, but of course an impossible one. But, it’s worth striving for.

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