Complaints are Gifts, Criticisms are Actionable

Photo by Lina Trochez on Unsplash

omplaints are gifts. I was introduced to this saying by my good friend and mentor, customer value guru Dr Ian Brooks many years ago. It became part of the business canon, alongside concepts like Extreme Ownership, that I have carried with me in business.

I’ve recently been reminded of it in many discussions with colleagues and mentees. Complaints from customers will occur, no matter how good we are at what we do. Sure, if we’re being super effective, they will be rare, but nonetheless, they will happen. Sometimes, the reason for the complaint has little to do with us directly. For example, in the current climate, couriers and post are experiencing significant delays and this is resulting in a lot of complaints to online vendors about delayed orders. Is it the vendor’s fault? Not really, but as Jocko Willink explains in Extreme Ownership (linked above), it’s still the vendor’s responsibility… The most important aspect of taking responsibility is to first recognise that complaints are gifts. They pretty much tell us exactly what we can focus on to improve our business, improve the customer experience, and ultimately have a more sustainable and profitable business. So, again, complaints are gifts. Treat them as such.

I know that most of us would like to receive praise rather than complaints. Praise is also important as it shows when we’re on the right track and it helps to support our wellbeing and that of our team. It’s part of the currency that rewards us for a job well done and improves the culture and energy of our teams… but… it’s not always very actionable. On the other hand, criticism is! It defines a problem and therefore, we can work on a solution that will have a meaningful impact not just on this customer and in this interaction, but across the entire business.

So, as a businessperson, always remember that complaints are gifts and criticisms are actionable! Be grateful for those customers that have the cojones to complain because they are the ones that can help you to learn, grow, and improve.



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