Love Their Complaints

The voice of an account service manager rose above the rest during a recent industry event. A client, the man complained to a colleague, had rewritten ad copy to include certain sale items. Seemingly-frustrated, the man recounted the story with great detail, including the fact that the client had completely rewritten the copy for the advertisement.

“I would love my job if it weren’t for the clients!” he then concluded.

file0001382919230Therein lies your problem, I thought. You have your job because you have clients. This man’s attitude would likely be his real source of frustration, if not his ultimate downfall.

I’ve observed disdain for customers before. And I can certainly relate to feeling as though clients “undervalue” offerings. I’ve always put 110 percent of myself into my work and what I deliver; that’s a true reflection of my values. So, in the past, if clients didn’t fall over themselves with praise for what I had created I’d take it personally, feeling disappointed and disheartened.

As I was reading “100 Ways to Create Wealth” by Steve Chandler I had a true “Aha” moment: I realized that my job wasn’t as much about me as I’d thought! It was about the wants and needs of my clients. I needed to stop focusing on my bruised ego and listen to what they were saying

Here’s an example: Several months ago a client asked me to set up a promotion celebrating a major milestone in his business. He also asked me to invite surrounding businesses to participate in order to expand the celebration, help defray the costs and increase customer traffic. I reached out to several of the retailers in person and via e-mail. One business owner jumped on board immediately, responding, “We’re in!” I was thrilled.

The promotion proved a major success despite menacing winter weather. People turned out and supported my client and the surrounding retailers. Then it came time to collect the money from the participants. That’s when the trouble started.

The first neighbor on board was holding out. To say I was shocked is an understatement, but what followed really threw me for a loop. That business owner said that I had not fulfilled my promises and had misled everyone involved. He couldn’t believe that a person like me was still in business, he said. I didn’t know how to respond.

I considered telling this guy where to go, sending him a nasty-gram or having my assistant “handle it.” Instead I let a few days pass and reflected on where my accountability lay in this situation. Here’s what I realized:

This man’s complaint was just information. Not good, bad or otherwise. Just information, from his perspective. As cliché as it sounds, it wasn’t personal; it was just business. I needed to put my savvy businesswoman hat on and give up the tantrum. I didn’t need to be on a mission to prove him wrong. I needed to learn from this experience and move on.

A complaint, while maybe unpleasant, can be a great jumping-off point for uncharted territory in any direction. It’s valuable information when used properly. It’s a chance to analyze and improve, a rare opportunity for growth.

In this case I concluded that although e-mail is convenient for me, it’s not always the best form of communication for others. I don’t believe this man had truly understood what his business would be receiving as a participant in the program. He’s a man who appreciates face time and in-person explanations. I had not managed all the expectations well.

If do-overs applied, I’d do that one differently. But that’s not the way life works. So I view this as a valuable lesson in how to always come from a place of service, communicate effectively and better manage expectations.

When you take the emotion out of a conflict and treat a complaint as an exchange of information rather than an accusation, important dialogue can ensue.

My advice to any businessperson is this: Rather than avoid customer complaints, embrace them for the powerful information sources they are.

Just make sure you hear the rationale, not an accusation. Don’t let a defensive ego undermine this gift you’re receiving.

You might just find that your relationship with your client grows stronger by your willingness to deal with the complaint… uh… information you’ve been given.

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