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Complaints are an opportunity to grow

23 Jul 2016   Shanti Gowans

Complaints are a normal part of every business. Your measure, as owner of a yoga centre, spa or clinic, is not in how many complaints you get, it’s in how you react and deal with a disgruntled student or client. It takes courage for a person to come forward and share, so thank them, listen to their beef and ask yourself these questions:

Have I truly listened?

Always let the unhappy person be heard. Allow them to talk until they run out of words. Resist the urge to interrupt. Show respect. Whatever they are saying is a version of the truth. They will be less frustrated if you listen with an open mind. When they have finished, ask: "What would you like me to do? How can I fix this for you?" This does not mean that you are going to do what they say, but it tells them you are prepared to solve the problem.

Is it for real?

Could the complaint actually be a misunderstanding or an exaggerated version of the truth? Ask questions. Look critically at what happened, or might have happened. Ask the teacher or therapist for their version. Gather all the facts. Ultimately, you will want to avoid escalating the problem, being overly defensive of your team or offering compensation, when it is not warranted. You can’t make a sound decision about how you handle a complaint without knowing how genuine it is.

Have I taken thinking time?

Do not knee-jerk to an instant solution. There are at least two sides to every story and without the complete picture, you cannot decide on the best course of action. It is wiser to gather all the information you need, and tell the person you will get back to them. Take time to think it through, get the issue straight in your mind first. Keep in touch with the person, let them know your progress and flag when you will be responding to them, so they have a definite timeframe.

Do I refund or redo?

Where possible, a redo is always your best option, and perhaps with another teacher or therapist. A redo gives you the opportunity to show the person that your business can make them happy. You get to demonstrate professionalism and skill, as well as understanding. Whereas a refund says “we can’t do it” and may pander to those who know how to play the system. Sure, if you believe that a team member has genuinely let a student/client/patient down, then consider making a refund, but never as your first option.

Could we have prevented this?

Ensure that every person is satisfied before they leave your business. Don’t wait for them to phone in their complaint the next day, which is uncomfortable for everyone. By then, they have had time to dwell on the frustration and negativity. Instead, nip it in the bud. Factor in a mandatory step for every service where the person is asked: Are you happy with the service you received today? Train your staff to sense when a person is not completely delighted and respond with an open, honest conversation.

Is our quality consistent?

Some people will always find something to complain about - they are just never happy. Accept it. Then there are others who seem to get you to bend the rules, telling you what to do and not do during their service. This is a whole can of worms, best left unopened. Treat all people with the same high level of quality in line with your professional expertise. Trust in what you know. Avoid trying to be all things to all people. Maybe the people who do not like your service delivery would be better off with one of your competitors.

Am I keeping my cool online?

If you are too busy to check online reviews, get someone to help you. You must manage online feedback – it’s there on the wall, literally, for all to see. Online reviews are often posted in the heat of the moment and people can be extra nasty when they are not facing up to you personally. Avoid responding with anything other than an invitation to enter into a discussion with you. Take it back offline. Always aim to resolve the issue and keep your students or clients long-term. Never, never argue back.

What have I learned?

Every complaint is a learning opportunity. Take the emotion out of the situation so you can understand the real challenge, the true lesson to be learned each time. It might be a tweak to your procedures, some staff training or simply knowing that you could have handled a conversation differently. Complaints are a learning curve brimming with insights about yourself, your team, your business and your clients.

Have I said thank you?

Thank your the complainer for their honesty. It takes some pluck to air a grievance. And they are doing you a service by sharing their thoughts with you. They are standing up for their right to remain your client. They could vote with their feet and their dollars, making a beeline for a competitor without you ever being the wiser. You’ve surely been in a position of consumer dissatisfaction yourself… Show some empathy and remember how it felt to be on the other side.

Treasure every complaint as an opportunity to grow and develop, a chance to do better for you and everyone. Work through the process, embrace the negatives and translate them into positive outcomes for your business.



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About Shantiji

Shanti Gowans is the globally recognised author and founder of Shanti Yoga™, Meditation and Ayurveda for the self, family and community.

Shantiji has brought the concepts and practices of a healthy body and a still mind to thousands of Australians through her Yoga and Meditation programs on national television... Read more about Shantiji's biography

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