Embracing complaints

I was at a restaurant having lunch with a friend a few weeks ago. As soon as she had tasted her food, she started picking apart the various things she found wrong with it. It was a little cold, needed more pepper, and it wasn’t cooked to her liking. After about five minutes, the waiter returned to the table, and cheerfully asked, “Is everything okay here?”Without missing a beat, my friend looked up at the waiter, smiling, and said, “It’s just great!”

What!? I couldn’t believe my ears. As soon as the waiter had gone, I said, “It’s obviously not great—you’ve done nothing but say how disappointed you are since he put the food down!” My friend shrugged and said, “Well, I didn’t want to bother him about it.”

Just because customers aren’t complaining doesn’t mean they’re happy with what you’re doing. It could be in their personality to not complain, or they may be too tired or busy to actually voice their dissatisfaction. Regardless, there’s an old statistic that says for every one complaint you officially receive, there’s at least ten more customers who are not happy but have chosen not to complain. This is especially relatable for a strategic outsourcing company such as ours, where onsite customers are confined to using our services—that is, they need to book in their visitors with you whether or not your exceptional and memorable, because after all, you’re the only reception they’ve got.

It’s easy to see customers who complain as natural whiners—they’re never happy with anything, so you don’t need to take their complaint seriously. Some service providers may think, “How could they possibly know all the things I have to deal with and how many customers I’ve handled today?”

In reality, however, this mentality reveals a number of things about that provider. First, it shows a lack of self-awareness—they don’t actually care whether their customers are happy, because they are convinced that they are doing a good job, and that’s good enough. It also shows that they jump to being defensive of any criticisms about their performance in the workplace; they are resistant to change and to improvement, and it even demonstrates aggressive tendencies.

Most customers don’t want a grand gesture in response to their complaints—they’re rational adults who realise that, sometimes, things happen that shouldn’t. What really irritates customers isn’t when things go wrong, but rather feeling that their concerns or disappointments have not been acknowledged, or that, by complaining, they’re somehow bothering you. However, handling a customer’s disappointment in a positive, empathetic way will create great lasting impressions and will build strong customer relationships.

The most successful organisations, teams and individuals make customer satisfaction a priority, even if it means hearing some unpleasant things about themselves.

Here are a few ways you can make sure that you are really addressing customer concerns and dissatisfactions:

  • Acknowledge it – instead of pretending that a customer complaint is baseless or invalid, acknowledging the complaint will enable customers to understand that you have empathy for their situation;
  • Look for it – don’t simply wait for customers to complain—ask them if they are satisfied; in person, on the phone, or even create a feedback card for customers to submit anonymously. The easier it is for customers to complain, the more customer-focussed you’re likely to be;
  • Embrace it and deal with it – if you acknowledge that there are areas for improvement, do something about it! Help create a culture within your team that not only handles customer complaints well, but takes pride in doing so. Customers will be sure to take notice and will appreciate the effort that you make to improve your service to them.



So, the next time you receive a complaint, remember that they are not the only ones who feels that way, and take it as an opportunity to create another exceptional, memorable experience.

By David Melnick, learning and development coordinator, Mitie Client Services – Follow us on Twitter

To find out more about how we can help your front of house service, get in touch today.

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