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Learning from Your Employees' and Customers' Complaints

By Etienne Gibbs
Posted Thursday, February 10, 2005

Listening to complaints, whether they're reasonable or not, is a part of every manager's job. Sometimes complaints can be overwhelming. However, by taking them in stride with an open mind, we can learn much from our employees' and customers' feelings about the workplace.

After all, a complaint is nothing more that a person telling you that his (or her) needs haven't been met. As dissatisfied customers, they are giving us a second chance to correct something that should have been done properly the first time around. (In this case the customer happens to be your employee.)

If you listen to them patiently and attentively, their complaints will alert you to a real or potential problem, or tell you of a better way to handle a situation.

We are not use, however, to coping with complaints. We let our emotions rule our thinking usually. Consequently, we let complaints wear us out because we take on the complaint as a personal attack on us. It is not!

The next time you are faced with an irate employee, here are some steps to consider:

· Try doing something new and different.

· Listen attentively, patiently, and with good nature.

· Even if the complaint seems unreasonable, don't tell him so. Keep it to yourself.

· Because nobody wants to be accused of being unreasonable, especially if it's true, admit that he might be right. (The implication is that you may be wrong.)

· Invite him to offer you in his own words a solution to his complaint. Say, for example, "If you were in my shoes, what would you do to correct the situation?" (Be careful not to call his complaint or situation a problem, because doing so might aggravate him to the point that he loses his ability to think and express himself clearly.)

· Listen carefully and actively. Read his body language.

· Use feedback questions or statements to let him know that you're trying to understand and meet his needs. (Begin responses with statements like, "If I understand you correctly, ...")

When you take the time to listen to your complaining customers or employee, you'll hear what he’s telling you. Then you’ll be in a better position to turn him into a satisfied customer.

Remember: When you maximize your potential, everyone wins. When you don't, we all lose.

© Etienne A. Gibbs, MSW

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About the Author
Etienne A. Gibbs, MSW, Management Consultant and Trainer, conducts seminars, lectures, and writes articles on his theme: ... helping you maximize your potential. He offers management, marketing, and parenting resources at (


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