It happened again today. One of the vendors I buy from messed up my billing, again.
But something else happened today too. Not only did they mess up my billing but they got a bad attitude about it.
They didn’t charge me like that should have – then wanted to charge me a late fee for the privilege of their billing error.
As I corresponded about the issue I got an email that said something to the effect of “we’ll waive the late charges this time, but we can’t do so again for another year.”
So you’re telling me that you messed up and now you’ll charge me the next time you mess up?
What’s worse, as is often the case in situations like this, you can’t get to the supervisor of the employee making the error.
I mean who wants to tell their boss they screwed up?
But bosses need to know. We as business owners and leaders need to know.
From my experience many of us need to redo our complaint systems so we can get this most valuable information — what’s not working.
Let’s look at taking a new view on complaints in our businesses.
Point 1: What’s Wrong Is Some Of The Most Important Information
If you have studied business systems for any time you know that what doesn’t fit in the system – what goes wrong – are some of your biggest opportunities for growth. Systems are where I start my analysis of problems.
One of the problems of problems, within systems, is these problems tend to go away. And they don’t go away in a good way. They go away in a bad way. Usually the customer gives up and takes their money elsewhere.
If your system doesn’t work for them they vote with their feet.
And this might be great if the customer doesn’t fit your brand. If it’s not a customer you want it’s OK if they shop elsewhere.
But often in the course of problems we lose the good customers, not the bad ones. We anger the ones that would stay loyal for a long time.
And most systems are so efficient that often when something goes wrong there is not “out.” The customer is stuck in the broken system forever. They can’t get to the leadership to address the problem and instead they have a cycle of frustration and leave.
We, as business owners and leaders, want to know there is a problem not letting our customers leave in a cycle of frustration.
Point 2: Employees Naturally Want To Cover Up
Many employees will naturally want to cover up problems. Unless we have seeded a strong culture of dealing with problems employees may want to avoid problems.
In some cases our companies may have metrics – such as the number of calls handled per hour – that may cause our employees to avoid problems. We have to be very careful that the systems we have put in place don’t encourage our employees to not deal with problems.
Further our systems might help employees cover up problems. If our systems frustrate our customers to where they just go away we’ll never know what happened, your employee will show up great in their metrics and everyone within the business will (falsely) believe everything is great.
This is not saying all employees will take this path. But if your systems aren’t built to find these issues and encourage improvement it’s a real risk.
Point 3: Customers Need To Be Able To “Report Up”
My interactions with businesses show me they all want to deal with issues in a certain manner. Call this number, speak to this person/group, and deal with our “process.”
And process is a great thing in business. I, in fact, am a big fan of systems. They can lead to productivity for those employees that do the same function over and over (for a caution of using productivity the wrong way check this article).
These same systems means that there is no effective feedback channel when something is wrong with the system. Bad menu system when folks call in? Everyone gets frustrated and no one knows. Employees unable to fix a customer’s issue of a certain type? No report of that either as it’s not in the system.
This means we need a way for customers to break out of our systems when they don’t work. A complaint line. An alternate means of getting feedback to upper management.
Point 4: We Can’t Be So Efficient That We Damage Our Future
Which brings up the point we can be so focused on efficiency that we lose our future.
While it might not seem “efficient” for customers to get the time of leadership in many ways it could be the most efficient thing you could do. The cost of getting customers is high. The cost of a scorned customer is high. The cost of losing more and more customers for the same system failure is high.
Giving customers a way to rat out your problems is a huge benefit to your business.
We should, as business owners, be taking the broad view of efficiency. While dealing with each issue that comes into our business quickly is “efficient.” But over focusing on these micro-metrics may lead us to not seeing the broader efficiency. Efficiency like getting a customer once and keeping them forever.
Point 5: We Need A New Attitude On Complaints
All of this leads to needing a new attitude on complaints.
Complaints can be some of the most beneficial things we can get in business.
We want to avoid complaints, of course. But things will break and there will be problems. And we should want to know.
Every time a complaint comes in it’s an opportunity to improve. A chance to fix a problem that is creating friction that comes in.
So we need to think differently about complaints. We need to make it easy for customers to complain. We need a channel for customers to complain that makes customers willing to call in.
Then we need to take those complaints and use them for action – and change.
Most businesses are squashing their biggest business development tool.
What To Do Next
Changing how you deal with complaints means changing your business. Changing your processes and giving real thoughts to not just your systems but how your systems don’t work.
This is new territory for most businesses.
Getting this right starts with knowing your systems. From there build a bypass that allows your users to complain about the systems, easily.
Expect to be overwhelmed at first because most businesses have issues with their systems. But you’ll be on the path to success.
Like most things in business you can ignore this advice and keep doing what everyone else is doing. And you’ll probably survive. Or you can make a change, do what is right for your customers, and move your business to another level.
What’s the culture you want for your business?
NOTE: This article is a piece develop a small portion of the content of the book tentatively called The Journey: Finding Your Place From Entrepreneur to CEO being co-authored by The Our Shawn McBride and Ann Gatty. If you want updates on the book including the possibility of joining our release team or getting one of the first copies please join our mailing list here.
DISCLAIMER: This article talks about legal issues. I am a lawyer licensed in multiple US jurisdictions, but I am not your lawyer unless we have signed an engagement agreement. Please view this material as educational and general in nature (as it is). Consult counsel you have retained for advice on your specific facts and circumstances and applicable laws. Do not rely on the statements in this article as legal advice.
By: The Our Shawn McBride, is the business nerd and long-time business attorney that focuses on changes of ownership in businesses. He works with business owners that know their business is about more than themselves to get ready for their future through keynotes, training and personalized solutions. In furtherance of this he hosts The Future Done Right(TM) Show where he collects, digests and gives lessons and insights on The Future of Business. If you want regular content on the future of business subscribe to get new blog posts from us here.
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The Our Shawn is based in DeLand, Florida (between Orlando, Florida and Daytona Beach, Florida) and Dallas, Texas where he keeps offices. You can also find Shawn on webinars or traveling nationally or internationally for speaking engagements.
Check me out at: www.planningdoneright.com
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