The email comes, or the phone rings, and there’s an absolute flood pouring right at you. “Hey, you didn’t do what you said you would do. This didn’t work as advertised. You goofed!”
Yup, a complaint. Ahhh! A complaint?! But you poured your heart and soul into it, how could they complain?
Then you take a breath, and you read what they’re asking for, and you realize… they were right. You DID make a mistake. Things are goofed up, perhaps badly.
Time to hang up your hat and go work in a cafe?
Well, no, not really. But it can sure feel that way. Why is it that when you get a complaint it always stirs you up?
I could say it’s a gift from Source (and it is) but let’s not go there immediately. Before you try to figure it out, take a moment, or two, or an hour, or even half a day, for yourself.
That’s right, you don’t have to respond immediately.
Not every complaint is going to shake you, but when they do resist the urge to respond immediately. Instead, take time for yourself to feel upset, to connect with your heart, and to realize that perhaps it’s not as bad as you might think.
Once you catch up to your heart, then it’s time to respond. Let’s take a look, shall we?
We apologize for any inconvenience…
This is exactly what you -don’t- want to say. Unfortunately, there’s been ‘corporate’ language creeping into every day speech. Plus, as a small business owner, you don’t necessarily see what other small business owners do in the dark of their email inboxes, so you don’t have other examples.
You and I are only used to seeing the kind of emails/letters/phone calls that the big boys send out to their millions of customers.
This is not what you want to emulate. Not.
The three most important things in an apology response.
When someone complains, they are actually giving you an incredible testimonial. You see, trust and hope have been broken so often in our culture, that many people just take average or below-average as ‘normal.’
For instance, our trash can broke just a year or two after we bought it. A trash can? It should last for years, really, but I didn’t expect any better. And I didn’t complain to anyone (except my wife.)
So, if you get a complain, that means they trust you enough to show you how much they wanted your offer/product/service to work for them. That they trusted you enough to handle them with care, even when they are upset. That they trusted that you will take care of them.
That’s a lot of trust.
So, how about those three things that are needed in the response? Let’s take a closer look at them.
Keys to Caring for Complaints.
• Hear ye, O hear ye!
First and foremost they want to be heard. They want you to hear the facts of the matter, but even more importantly, they want you to get that they are upset to some degree.
Read their email, or letter, or listen to the words they spoke carefully. Did they say they were “frustrated?” Or did they say they were “really upset!” Did their tone sound like it had a LOT of energy in it, or was it fairly mild.
You want to let them know that you get exactly how upset they are, and the tone of the emotion. If someone says “really upset!” don’t say: “Sounds like you’re a little frustrated.”
They aren’t a little frustrated- they are “really upset!” So let them know you see it: “Wow, I get that you are really upset! I’m glad you let me know how upset you are!”
• It’s ‘me’ not ‘we.’
We’ve all been trained to say “we” in these kinds of situations. “We apologize for any inconvenience.” But, seriously, who is “we?” Even if you have a company of 10,000, you are the person responding.
They showed you trust by complaining, show them trust by being a little vulnerable here, don’t hide behind the ‘we’ even if other people were involved.
For instance: ‘I’m sad about the goof, because I want you to get the best from me (or us if there is more than one of you), and I’m grateful you let me know so I can fix it.’
Tell them how you’re going to fix the problem. Give details. Instead of ‘We’ll replace it for you.’ try writing something like this:
‘I’m putting the replacement in the mail today by priority mail- you should have it in about three days. Please let me know when you receive it and if it’s in good shape.’
Most of all, respond to the people who complain as you would talk to a good friend, not to someone who you need to hide from or keep at an arm’s length.
We received an email asking about an order- and, you know what, our system dropped the order, and we weren’t tracking. We got paid, but we never shipped the item. Luckily, this happens rarely.
The instinct from corporate examples is to respond like this:
“We apologize for any inconvenience. We’re sending you a replacement copy immediately, and you should have it very soon. We really appreciate your business, and we want to make this right with you.
It’s perfectly fine, in some ways. And yet, here is how we like to respond:
“Wow- I’m so sorry that we goofed your order like that! Ugh! I can imagine you’ve been frustrated, wondering where in the heck your order is, and here it is more than a week later!
“I want you to know that I just put your book into a priority mail envelope and it’s going out today. It should take about three days to get to you. If you don’t have it by Tuesday, let me know.
“Mark (or whomever is writing the email)”
And, we also usually put a little extra gift in the package, as a surprise, when we goof.
If you let yourself breathe through your initial reaction to a complaint, then you will see the deep trust that is being given, and you can return it in a way that will feel great to your heart.
Stick with saying “me” instead of “we,” being authentic, and show them how you are going to fix it, and you’ll see how goof-ups can actually be doorways to creating deeper trust, and your upset clients just might turn into raving fans.
Mark Silver is the author of Unveiling the Heart of Your Business: How Money, Marketing and Sales can Deepen Your Heart, Heal the World, and Still Add to Your Bottom Line. He has helped hundreds of small business owners around the globe succeed in business without lousing their hearts. Get three free chapters of the book online: http://www.heartofbusiness.com.
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