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Monday, April 14, 2008

Are Complaints Bad?...

by David Bookout

The thought came to me as I was standing in line for a cup of coffee at my favorite coffee shop.

An elderly woman was complaining to the young lady at the register about the strength of the coffee. The elder felt it was "too strong", and was compelled to make this quite clear. Next to the young lady at the register was a young man piloting the coffee maker, who attempted to join the conversation with a few seasoned tips on coffee grinding, brewing and their relative attributes to the strength of the end product.

The elder was having none of it. Each exchange from the young duo was met with the same simple rebuttal - "well, it shouldn't be so strong!"

But to me, an interesting twist was evolving. The elderly woman had placed herself in the one coffee shop, amongst three in the downtown block, generally known to have THE strongest coffee. Period. The shops whole positioning rests on the freshness and quality of the bean, meticulous roasting and brewing processes, and the collaborative experience of bringing this all together in a cup.

So, if the elderly woman wanted something else, why was she there?

With her back to me, I couldn't see the elder's face, but when she'd had enough of the "conversation", and turned to walk past, her look told volumes. A frozen grimace, etched into an overly tanned face by deep, deep wrinkles. In a way she reminded me of an angry version of Magda the elderly lady in "There's something about Mary". As mad Magda shuffled past me with her crossword puzzle and a cup of "too strong" coffee it struck me as ironic that she was attempting to complain about the shops core promise, which people drive out of their way to get.

From this perspective mad Magda wasn't complaining, she was simply an unsatisfiable attention seeker.

But in these days of customer as King and Queen what do businesses do with complaints?

Here are four basic rules for owners, executives and managers:

First, listen respectfully, and try to really understand what the person is talking about. It may be that what the person is offering is of incredible value relative to either a perceived offer, or offer you might be better off to make. If you find yourself thinking more about what your going to say next, refocus on listening.

Second, don't make excuses, or defend what ever happened. Instead apologize. Ensure that the person thinks they have been heard. Rebuttals, ever so slight as the word "but" discounts the contribution.

Third, don't offer, or promise any action that you aren't committed to, or aren't able to take on. This only destroys trust. A sincere apology is a completely acceptable end.

Fourth, consider the context of the complaint. Mad Magda's complaint was lodged at the shops core promise, which they were absolutely fulfilling on, she just didn't know better. If there isn't a promise, there can't be a complaint, and while it may sound strange, some customers, like mad Magda, are best found in the shops of your competitors.


Anonymous said...

I found your blog rather interesting and useful. If you have some experience in writing complaints, this does not mean you can write a Business Complaint. In this case it is important to be quite short, firm and clear. No emotions and rude expression of dissatisfaction. All these and other tips on writing a business complaint I find on the Internet. Recently, I have got to www.pissedconsumer.com. A very great source of information on this topic.

Anonymous said...

Hello. Commenting on the issue of Business Complaints which you are discussing here I would like to say that these do work. The thing is that you have to know how to correctly compose and post them. On the Internet you can find numerous tips and samples. On of the best sources for that is www.pissedconsumer.com. It is a very informative site in terms of claims and complaints.

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