Make complaints your friend

Last week I was watching a TV programme which served up a valuable business lesson.   Here’s what happened.  Three B & B owners stay at each others places for a night.  In the morning, they can decide how much of the standard tariff they think the experience was worth.  They also provide comment on what they liked or didn’t like. Participants were a young couple just starting out, a posh lady who used to run a finishing school, and a down-home older couple.

Young couple were up first.  Criticism was around not having enough personality in the rooms – a little bit bland.  They then thanked the others and said that they would consider their comments further.  Posh lady was up second.  The criticism of her place was around the quality of the experience.  Her response was to argue the point, and if that didn’t work to rely on the fact that she had 4 stars and the others didn’t.  Down-home couple were last.  When it came to their turn to get paid and receive the feedback (this time about being stuck in a bit of a time-warp and in need of refreshing), the woman burst into tears.

Of the three of them, the first couple (who incidentally won the challenge) were the only ones that had a positive response to the experience.  The lessons I took away were:

1. After a while we all get used to “the way things are done around here” and don’t look critically at things.  Outsiders can be beneficial to get us to see what is really happening and how it relates to an ever-changing world.

2. Constructive criticism is good – it gives us some ideas to work with.  That’s so much easier than having to come up with all the ideas yourself.

3. Taking a defensive approach, or worse, an aggressive response to criticism won’t help anyone.  You need to listen, acknowledge and then think about how others see you.

4. Criticism, given well,  is never personal.  It takes a lot for most people to offer criticism and more often than not it is done because they want to help.  Accept the gift and treasure it.

5. It is only by trying things out, seeing how well they are received, and adapting the approach as required that we can grow and remain relevant.

I relish the opportunity to receive feedback, both positive and negative.  It gives me the opportunity to retain and build better relationships with my clients and friends.  It gives me new ideas.  It provides a challenge to improve what & how I do things and an opportunity for personal growth.  And, far more importantly, it keeps my thinking fresh and relevant.

So, what do you do about making sure you receive complaints?  Do you have a process for getting feedback from your customers?  And what do you do with the information?  If the answer is nothing, then here are some ideas.

1. Run a client satisfaction survey.  We have starting running  “Net Promotor Score” telephone interviews every 6 months- just 2 simple questions that can provide a huge amount of information.  There are plenty of other ways that you can get feedback, including online surveys.

2. Run a client advisory board – Get a group of clients together (with an external facilitator) and see what they have to say about you.  The advantage of this approach is that you might even get some free promotion on the breadth of your services amongst the group.

3.   Undertake some market research which you can also extend to non-clients.  This can give you some valuable information about how you stack up against your competitors and what customers really want.

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