How to Float a Complaint

message-in-bottleImagine a picturesque resort retreat near a lake. To take full advantage of its serene surroundings, the resort offers canoes in which guests can paddle onto the lake to enjoy nature’s splendor. You are all set to hop in a canoe and enjoy the nature at her best but despite unused canoes at the water’s edge you are advised that there aren’t enough life jackets for all canoes to be in the water at once. Disappointed, you rearrange your plans for the day or abandon the plan altogether.

You might walk away from an experience like this incredulous, seeing the problem as obvious and ask yourself what-were-they-thinking? Just as Will Rogers suggested that common sense isn’t so common any more – the obvious is not always so obvious.

As customers, we have an opportunity to make the “obvious” pain points of our experiences known to the business operators we patronize. While I was socialized to “be nice,” I have come to learn that by not calmly and constructively offering feedback I am not doing any favors – not to me, the business owners or future canoe guests in our hypothetical example. Perhaps the facilities manager purchased the same number of life jackets as canoes, overlooking the possibility that more than one person could be aboard a vessel. Or maybe they just weren’t thinking. It happens – details get missed, logic lost. When you are a customer on the receiving end of a botched service encounter, you still have the power to graciously offer the remedy that appears so plain-as-day to you. It is easier said than done. Teachable moments so quickly slide into rants.

As business leaders, we know there is often a lag between becoming aware of an issue and being able to execute the solution. When the next customer approaches the dock to rent a canoe, Tali Yahalom writes for Inc.com, “React before the customer realizes anything is wrong. You’ll gain tremendous loyalty by solving a problem before the customer voices a complaint.” The employee might acknowledge the equipment issue and make special efforts to streamline another nature experience in its place. Great business leaders don’t wait for customers to find them to complain. If you are aware of an issue and have a solution underway, being forthcoming has the potential to build far more goodwill than trying to talk a disgruntled customer off the wall once they have climbed it.

What customer complaint have you anticipated? What have you heard that has made your business better? Where has a business listened to and addressed a concern of importance to you?



Joseph Michelli

Joseph Michelli

Joseph Michelli, Ph.D., is an American psychologist, speaker, author, and organizational consultant.

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