You learn most when things go wrong
Damn! What went wrong? Yes, what did go wrong? Why did the Excel formula produce an ERROR? Why didn’t the Mail Merge pick up the right data? Why didn’t that new staff member do what I asked them to do?
You learn most when things go wrong.
I’ve recognised this for as long as I can remember, but it took Bruce van Helderen, CEO of Loudfire to put it to me in an entirely different way –
If a customer complains, start learning – not his exact words, but definitely his exact meaning.
So I took Bruce’s words on board and now if a client complains (not often thank goodness) I try to understand why he’s complaining, what caused it and whether and if so what I can do to prevent a similar complaint in future. Of course, some people are habitual complainers and we’ve learned to recognise them early on. Others simply expect more personal attention than we are prepared to give them. Those clients either get declined from the word go or quickly asked to go elsewhere. We can’t learn from them – they are not our target clients.
But what about the others? And why are things going wrong and customer complaints the same learning opportunities but frequently get dealt with differently?
Well, when something goes wrong, our natural instinct is to try to find out why (that makes Google so popular) and see if and how we can fix it. Even a delinquent staff member might be lucky enough to have a boss who tries to find the underlying cause rather than just blowing off. But a complaining customer? We tend to immediately go on the defensive. It wasn’t our fault, you didn’t give us the information, we’ve got rules, you know, it’s more than my job’s worth and so on. We simply don’t see this as a learning opportunity.
I recently stayed with my wife at Ridgeview Lodge in Durban. It’s a relatively up-market B&B. I had booked through one of those accomodation booking websites and when we returned home, I received an automatic email from the wesite inviting me to comment on my stay. I did and my comments were rather unfavourable. The following evening, Gary, the owner, phoned me and asked me what had led to my comments. When I explained to him, he tried to justify their conduct and when I told him that I was not interested in their reaons, only in the impact that they had had on our stay, he ended up shouting at me. D’you think he learned anything? I doubt it. A golden opportunity missed.
It was this that prompted this post plus one other event. We truly, badly, let down a relatively new client. Shaun, the person that we were dealing with sent me a very courteous email asking if we could chat on the phone as their registrations seemed to have got stuck. He was absolutely right. We had messed up. We took immediate corrective action and within less than 24 hours, all registration documents were emailed to him for signature, return and submission to the various authorities. This after he had been waiting for about 6 weeks! In that 22 odd hours we had also got to the root cause of the problem and taken full preventative action. We still have to check out all similar jobs and make sure that they get unstuck as quickly as possible. My heavens, did we learn a few things when Shaun “complained”!
So, the next time somebody complains, don’t go on the defensive. First do whatever you can to fix the immediate problem – most complainants will be happy when they see that you have taken them seriously and want to put things right. Then see what you can learn from the experience. What caused the dissatisfaction? Was it caused by a structural or organisational problem within your company? Was it truly a once only slip up (none of us is perfect) or is there a chance that it could repeat and if so what can you do to prevent a recurrence? Have you let down in a similar way, other clients/customers who didn’t complain but didn’t receive the service or quality that they deserved? Don’t let go until you are sure that you’ve learned as much as you can and fixed whatever needs fixing. Then move on.
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