Don’t call them complaints – call it “feedback”


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Friendly neighborhood in CACustomer feedback should be revered by business owners. What better way to find out if you are continuously meeting the needs of your customers in the most efficient and best respected ways? It’s a rare business that never has a complaint, but the negative connotation of the word tends to bring down our spirits, so why not use the positive spin and label it “feedback?” After all, it’s not to be taken as a criticism; it’s meant to keep us informed and help us improve.

Of primary importance is not to get defensive. Take notes and ask questions. Find out what frustrated your customer because if you don’t, how will you ever be able to elicit more positive feedback? Of course, you don’t want to offer excuses or blame. Customers really don’t care why it happened; they just want you to fix it. Start with apologizing, and take the responsibility for moving past objections by finding a solution. You want to recognize the customer was hurt, and you want to assure someone you will do all that is possible to correct the problem.

Recently I asked some of my colleagues for examples of what not to say when dealing with customer “feedback.” See what you think:

  • Don’t ever say, “I’m sorry that you feel that way.” According to Rebecca S., manager of The Limited, a clothing store, that kind of statement translates into telling a customer you don’t care they’re unhappy. Rebecca changed that statement to say, “I’m very sorry this happened. I will correct this problem for you.”
  • Don’t ever say, “We’ve seen worse.” You might as well be waving good-bye to your customer. Address the problem immediately, and make sure you have apologized. How you are going to remedy the situation is the solution; not that your staff has done worse.
  • Don’t ever say, “This has never happened to us before.” Margie M., owner of a shoe boutique received an Italian designer shipment of expensive shoes. She sold a pair to a new customer, and within a week the customer was back because the entire side of the shoe had separated from the platform. “It never did happen before,” Margie said, “but I told the customer how sorry I was, went into the back and gave her a replacement pair. I didn’t want to make excuses; I just wanted her to be happy. My boutique is extremely upbeat, and I actually love that designer. Mistakes do happen, but I thought discretion was the better part of my sales presentation.”
  • Don’t ever say, “I can’t do anything about it.” Again, just wave good-bye as your competition greets your previous customer at the door.

In the end, thank your customer for the feedback. Since 90 percent of customers never complain, and just don’t come back, feel privileged someone has taken the time, and let them know you appreciate how they have gone out of their way to help you do better. If you want to keep your customers and build customer loyalty, don’t let your customers down.

photo credit: La Citta Vita

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Cheryl Hanna
Service Untitled
Cheryl Hanna is a successful real estate sales person in Florida and has used her customer service knowledge and experience to set her apart and gain a competitive edge in a very difficult market. Cheryl has been writing professionally since 1999 and writes for several blogs and online publications


  1. Cheryl
    I assert that at a rational level we are ok with feedback. Yet at the emotional level – which is what really counts – we experience complaints as criticism and failure. And most of us have learned to avoid that at all costs. Interestingly, I read the following passage today:

    “On one of my consulting assignments, I was asked by a lead scientist to help her understand why members of her R&D staff were so intimidated, so unwilling to speak their minds and discuss vital issues openly…..

    Essentially, these R&D scientists, like all scientists, wanted their experiments to succeed. Wedded to highly demanding processes and insisting on exacting rigor, they were trained to seek certainty, but EMOTIONALLY they desired the satisfaction of success with all its recognition and acclaim. By their very nature, however, these particular R&D efforts involved frequent failure – and there was the rub. Intellectually, the scientists could accept failure if their research showed that a particular compound did not perform according to plan. EMOTIONALLY, however, to admit such a thing required the COURAGE to be VULNERABLE – vulnerable to the emotions associated with failure; vulnerable to likely criticism, second guessing and even doubt.

    Unfortunately and somewhat understandably, the scientists were distinctly uncomfortable feeling vulnerable. On the surface, they behaved as if they were open to the facts of failure, but underneath, they were closed to the emotional realities of disappointment, discouragement and doubt. During R&D meetings, dialogue was more about protecting oneself, proving a point, or defeating an argument than listening, considering options, or speaking candidly……”

    If scientists (who are viewed as being unemotional) feel, think and act this way then you can imagine how this plays out with people who are deemed to be less emotional. And it is particularly dominant as one climbs the corporate ladder. Will reframing it from complaint to ‘feedback’ do the trick. Personally, I don’t think so: ‘feedback’ is a left brain intellectual term when what we need to do is to touch the emotional side of people.

    I touched on how transparency (and the same goes for complaints) looks great from the outside when you and your actions are not on the line. Yet is a different matter when it concerns you:



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