Seeking helpful criticism

Jan. 1, 2020
An aggravated shop customer who gives you an earful might get you riled up, but at least they are communicating what they see as your company's weaknesses. Instead of getting upset, pay attention and use it to your advantage.
An aggravated shop customer who gives you an earful might get you riled up, but at least they are communicating what they see as your company's weaknesses. Instead of getting upset, pay attention and use it to your advantage.

"Taken the right way and addressed properly, complaints can actually strengthen client relationships," says John P. Kreiss, president of MorganSullivan. "When complaints are not taken seriously, though, client losses can rise quickly. It's more costly to win business from new clients than additional business from existing ones because it takes considerable time and effort to lay the groundwork for the first sale."

He explains that it usually takes time before a customer will take action and change their supplier. "Their dissatisfaction builds up over a series of events that take months or years to reach a tipping point," he says.

Open to criticism

The worst thing you can do is turn a deaf ear to a complaining customer or explain what it's like being in your shoes. It's not their job to worry about your everyday woes, but it is your job to worry about theirs. And don't assume that if customers haven't complained they are happy with your service.

What you need to do is encourage clients to complain, says Kreiss. Complaining clients tend to be precise about their dissatisfaction and are highly motivated to get an issue resolved. Their complaints often are also held by other clients who may not express them.

So set up an environment that shows you are open to both positive and negative comments:

1. Encourage your employees to ask for feedback when they make deliveries and take orders.

2. Provide surveys with questions related to customer service on the invoices you put in the mail.

3. As a manager, spend time on the phone with each of your key accounts at least once a month to find out how you can better serve them.

What's most important, however, is keeping your cool. You can't foster a workplace that's open to complaints if you get upset every time someone speaks up. Listen without making excuses and tell customers you'll see what you can do to eradicate the problem in the future.

"Most reasonable people don't expect perfection from their vendors. When a company handles and resolves a complaint promptly and courteously, often that actually strengthens the client relationship," says Kreiss. For more, visit www.morgansullivan.com.