Monday 26 May 2014

Can you take it?

Can you take criticism? Really?

It’s one of the marks of someone truly grown-up and mature that they can take criticism. I’m not talking about being attacked or insulted, I mean the complaints that we all have from time to time things we’ve said or done.

Well can you?

If you can’t then the bad news is that you’re going to have problems in life. It certainly means you’re never going to have a successful career in business because sooner or later everyone who makes a living by selling products or services will screw up and get complaints. Even if it’s not your fault you’re going to encounter a customer who’s angry, upset or disappointed and it’s going to be your job to deal with it.

And it’s hard. It’s hard to fix these problems practically but it’s also hard emotionally. Nobody likes being told that they’ve got something wrong, that they’ve blundered, that they’ve made someone unhappy.

The good news is that there’s a simple sequence of steps you can follow that will help you right the situation. If you’re prepared to be patient and follow them you’ll not only fix the problem, you might even end up with a happier customer than if the problem had never occurred. Welcome to the Consumer Watchdog Eight-Step Complaints Program.

1. Stay calm. Almost all problems are easier to solve when everyone’s calm. When you receive a complaint before you do anything else take a slow, deep breath. And then keep taking slow, deep breaths. Don’t get excited, don’t start hyperventilating and don’t have a panic attack. Stay calm and do you know what will happen next? Your customer will calm down as well. That’s always a good start. Stay that way throughout the rest of the eight steps.

2. Listen. Actively. Don’t just sit there with a blank face while your (now calm) customer explains what’s gone wrong. Nod your head, tilt it slightly sideways occasionally, make quiet, appreciative noises and don’t be afraid to say little things to encourage the customer to continue. These will help the customer communicate with you. They’ll also help you with Step 3.

3. Empathize. Show your customer that you care, that you understand how they feel, that you even share their feelings. Don’t be afraid to show your customer that you have emotions as well and that you can relate to them, that you’d feel the same if you were in their shoes. Above all, show them that they’re dealing with a human being. Do this even when your customer is an idiot. Idiots have feelings as well.

4. Get the facts. The facts are the things that will help you decide what can be done. The facts will help you decide how much you and your company are at fault and how much the customer has contributed to the situation. The facts are the evidence that will allow you to make a judgment on what to do in Step 5.

5. Solve it. Now you have the facts from a calm customer who feels he or she can trust you, you’re in a position to come up with a solution. It doesn’t have to be a solution that damages your company or loses you money, sometimes the solution can be nothing more than a sincere apology from another human being (that’s you, remember?). Better still, and certainly when you or your company are at fault, is something concrete, something of value. A repair, a replacement and a refund are the usual options. And an apology.

6. Follow up. Some time later get in touch with the customer to check they’re happier now, that their anger has subsided and they’re no longer spitting blood or crying themselves to sleep at night. Yet again it’s a way to show them that you’re a human being.

7. Learn. I know this is often said but it’s true. Complaints are the best possible things that can happen to any company. It’s only through complaints that a company learns where it’s going wrong. More importantly you get a sense of how your customers are feeling. They can also show you patterns. Are your biggest challenges caused by the manufacturing process, distribution or, as was the case with a company I once worked for, your salespeople telling lies. Yes, they always said to prospective customers, of course our product does that! A month later I was left explaining to a now angry customer that no, it’s never done that and it never will.

8. Improve. The lessons from Step 7 can now help you fix the problems that are making customer unhappy and leading to all those complaints. This is the most critical stage. Once you’ve gone through the first seven steps it’s a tragic waste of time and intelligence not to do something about the situation you uncovered. And remember that companies that are constantly learning and improving are the ones that have happier customers. They’re the ones who have the Holy Grail of business: repeat customers, customers who come back again and again because they love the products and services but, more than that, they trust the company to fix things when they go wrong.

So which sort of company do you want yours to be?

And here’s a secret. Even if your company doesn’t give a damn, you should follow these rules yourself because you’ll be the one the customers love rather than them. You’ll be the one who, sooner or later, will be poached by another company. I’ve seen this happen several times. Someone excellent being employed by fools gets an offer of a better job. I’ve even been that person offering the job a couple of times.

So it’s simple. Follow these steps and you can’t possibly lose.

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