7 ways to turn customer complaints into valuable learning experiences

At some point, even the best-run business will encounter and have to deal with a customer complaint. The obvious first step is to resolve the issue, but it’s also important to step back and look at the “big-picture” perspective. When leaders do that, there are two options: They can view customer complaints as “nuisances” that have to be dealt with or as valuable opportunities to learn.

The Business Journals

As many leaders note, when a customer complains about your product or service, they’re actually doing you a favor — they’re showing you where you may be coming up short. And it’s just as important to know where you’re struggling as where you shine. Below, seven members of Business Journals Leadership Trust share smart strategies to help your business create processes and methods for handling and learning from customer complaints.

1. Measure and incentivize decreases in complaints.
Measuring a decrease in customer complaints helps drive problem resolution and problem prevention for many organizations. Done well, companies can encourage learning from mistakes or complaints, making it less likely there will be repeat mistakes or issues. Coupling these learnings with incentives associated with driving a decrease in customer complaints is a winning formula. – Kimberly Janson, Janson Associates

2. Consider the thought behind the complaint.
Never view a complaint as a nuisance. Try to think about the underlying thought behind the complaint — is something wrong with your product? Are people misunderstanding how to use your product? Once you’ve figured out the reason why someone is complaining, own it and commit to fixing the issue. – Jamie Anderson, Emergent Software

3. Don’t get caught up in the customer’s tone.
Always listen to customer feedback, and don’t get caught up in the tone of the feedback. Review it from a higher level where you can gain insights into things that can be learned or improved upon. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

4. Reframe complaints as feedback.
Reframing a complaint as customer feedback and insight opens the door for a dialog to improve the problem your company is solving. Being curious and open-minded allows organizations to ensure their solutions are the best for their clients’ needs. – Rachel Namoff, Arapaho Asset Management

5. Uncover the facts and determine the truth.
First and foremost, it comes down to determining the truth. Uncover the brutal facts. Look at each review and ask, “What could we have done better here?” When we do that, we put ourselves in the customer’s shoes, which allows us to relate and have empathy. That leads to the “why,” the “how,” and resolving the issue for the client and making things right. – David Wescott, Transblue

6. Listen and refine best practices accordingly.
Customer feedback is one of the most valuable components in building a great company. We need to listen to customers and refine best practices accordingly. It doesn’t make a difference if you are a restaurant, a retailer or a B2B company — listen closely! – Donna Michaels, LMGPR

7. Keep a positive, customer-centric focus.
Some of our best opportunities in IT have been in the wake of a disaster. If you view challenges as a chance to prove your worth — as a time to show why clients are engaging you in the first place — you will often find they are your best opportunities to shine. Keep a positive, customer-centric focus throughout challenging times, have a “can-do” attitude and be solution-oriented. – Jared Knisley, Fizen Technology

11 Impactful Pieces Of Career Advice For Agency Pros

From books to blog posts to podcasts, there’s no shortage of career advice available out there for agency professionals. Sometimes, though, one stellar piece of wisdom they received rang especially true, helping to shape the trajectory of their career.

Forbes Agency Council

Whether you’re seeking insights on how to succeed in your work at an agency, specifically, or general career advice, it helps to listen to other leaders who have been in your shoes before. Below, 11 members of Forbes Agency Council share the best professional advice they’ve ever heard, and explain how it impacted their work.

1. Stay Positive And Solution-Oriented Through Adversity

Agencies can accidentally breed a culture of negativity. While complaints about clients, projects and teammates are often valid, staying positive and solution-oriented is what drives change, leadership, success and a much more enjoyable experience. I realized the validity of this advice was when I started asking myself how we can make things better. – Steve Peretz, Appnovation

2. Ask The Right Questions To Know If You Should Keep Going

Every six months, I ask myself two questions: Am I enjoying what I do? And can I support myself and my family in the way I want to? If I get two “yes” answers, I keep going. If I get one “yes” and one “no,” I have to pause and think about what to do next. And if both answers are “no,” I need to make a change. This has been my North Star for my whole career and has helped me get to where I am today. – Larry Fisher, Rise Interactive

3. Be The Best Listener In The Room

When I was just out of college, I had a mentor who would constantly remind me, “You have two ears and one mouth for a reason.” You don’t need to be the smartest or loudest person in the room to be successful; you need to be the best listener. I truly believe that life and leadership are about listening. To be great at both, you have to learn how to be an engaged listener. – Noah Dye, LEWIS

4. Let Others Teach You Things You Think You Know

A senior leader once told me that, when someone is explaining something and asks if you know about it, always say “no,” even if you already understand 99% of it. Everyone has their own way of teaching, so they will explain something that you have never heard before, and it will give you different perspectives and a clearer understanding of that topic. – Mandeep Singh, SEO Discovery Pvt Ltd.

5. Think About Today As Much As You Think About The Future

My husband recently reminded me that I need to think about today as much as I think about five years from now, and that really resonated with me. As a business owner, I feel as if I’m always thinking ahead, sometimes at the detriment of what’s happening right now. That reminder always pops into my head when I go down a planning rabbit hole. – Christine Wetzler, Pietryla PR

6. Problems Don’t Matter As Much As How You Approach Them

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve received is that there will always be problems that arise, and it’s not the actual problem that matters, but how you approach it. Find appropriate solutions and act in accordance with those solutions so that you can move forward effectively. Don’t let setbacks hold you back. Continue to push forward to achieve success. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne LLC

7. Slow Down And Don’t Try To Do Everything

The advice that I embraced recently is to slow down. Only about 20% of initiatives produce the desired results in my experience, leaving the remaining 80% a waste of valuable effort. By moving slowly and not trying to do everything, we can really focus on how our strategy will achieve our goals. Since I embraced this principle, our team has been able to produce higher-quality content and generate better results. – Alana Sandel, Marketing For Wellness

8. Work Harder And Smarter

The saying goes, “Don’t work harder, work smarter.” However, I have come up with my own version of it: “Work harder and smarter.” Only the ambitiousness of your goal can determine how hard you will need to work to get the desired result. In any case, your hardest efforts won’t mean a thing if you aren’t being smart about reaching your goal. – Solomon Thimothy, OneIMS

9. ‘It’s Not What You Do; It’s Why You Do It’

This quote from Simon Sinek resonates at such a high frequency that it applies to all facets of business. By simply asking, “Why does this matter?” when it comes to products, content and even processes, I can quickly determine the value of that business activity. If I can’t provide the “why,” then the approach should change or be eliminated. – Bernard May, National Positions

10. Only Do What You Love

Focus on your passion. When I started my agency 12 years ago, I wanted to be a jack-of-all-trades and really offer a “whole” value in terms of a campaign for a client. The result? Working on services that I hated to deliver, unmotivated staff and confused clients. We switched it up to focus mainly on social media with a few extras, and we have never been more successful. – Christopher Tompkins, The Go! Agency

11. Nothing Worth Doing Comes Easily

My dad always said, “They call it ‘work’ because it’s work.” While there’s a lot to be said for finding an industry and a job that you’re passionate about, there is profound wisdom in his words. Nothing worth doing ever comes easily. It’s important to work hard at what you love doing so that you can become the best at your craft. At the end of the day, long hours and hard work is what made my agency possible. – April Margulies, Trust Relations

13 Best Next Steps To Take When Customer Complaints Go Viral

General Mills faced a PR crisis earlier this year when someone posted a claim on social media saying that he’d found shrimp tails in his Cinnamon Toast Crunch breakfast cereal; company leaders took heat for not responding properly or with enough speed.

Whether or not a business is truly in the wrong, when a customer complaint gains attention in an online public forum, it can go viral quickly. This is why all companies need to develop a plan for addressing negative claims that blow up on social media.

Forbes Agency Council

To help, 11 members of Forbes Agency Council take a look at techniques for limiting the damage viral customer complaints can do to a company’s public image.

1. Get To The Bottom Of It Right Away

Get to the bottom of the issue as fast as possible so that your next actions can be better informed, and gather a team to make sure you are considering different perspectives. Rather than ignore the situation or delete comments, acknowledge mistakes. Make it as short as possible; dwelling or engaging beyond what’s necessary will only heat things up more. – Maddie Raedts, IMA – Influencer Marketing Agency

2. Tell The Truth And Move On

If the claim is inaccurate, put the truth out there and move on. Today’s consumers, especially younger consumers, will no longer be pacified with apologies. They want to see sustained action. If the claim has any truth to it, it’s time to take a hard look at your business practices and fix the issue that was brought up. – Brian Sullivan, Sullivan Branding

3. Control The Narrative

You must control the narrative, amplify the positive and hush the negativity. In the case of General Mills, they should’ve sent a rep out to pick up the box of cereal and have it tested. This way, they remove the control from the public. When results come back, tell the truth while amplifying the positive and hushing the negativity. – Brent Payne, Loud Interactive, LLC

4. Don’t Deny Or Make Light Of It

This is a nightmare scenario for a brand. Have a plan for a situation such as this so that employees know how to handle it well and quickly. Don’t try to sweep it under the carpet by denying or making light of it. Try to get the person offline immediately to address the issue directly and come to a resolution that won’t make the situation worse. Let them know that they are authentically being heard. – Megan Devine, d.trio marketing group

5. Seek Counsel Immediately

I would suggest turning to a PR or communications specialist ASAP to fast-track a plan of attack. It is good to have a specialist available to tap into, as not all of us have the most astute understanding of how the media and the audience at large will react. Seeking expert help will help you untangle perception much more effectively. – Christopher Tompkins, The Go! Agency

6. Grasp The Full Context First

When social media crises strike, I always advise companies to get it fast, get it right, get it out and get it over. They need to grasp the full context first: what was said, how it is trending within a wider community and how stakeholders feel about it. Drawing available data from across social media platforms allows companies to suss out the original source, assess the situation and better strategize. – Lars Voedisch, PRecious Communications

7. Acknowledge Your Concern

As a first step, in an effort to be transparent, you should acknowledge that your company is concerned about the situation and those affected. Show that your company is in control and doing everything possible to address the problem. Finally, demonstrate your commitment to rectifying the issue while identifying the problem and ensuring that it won’t happen again. – Joey Hodges, Demonstrate

8. Don’t Be Emotional And Defensive

Always make sure you get ahead of any bad PR. Transparency is key. Sometimes it’s tough to be in that position, but you have to issue a positive and proper response. Don’t let your emotions get the best of you and rush responses out in a defensive manner. Hire a professional and craft the proper response that won’t open you up to more criticism. – Blake George, BMG Media Co.

9. Use Humor In Your Response

Companies can make PR crises work in their favor; this requires leaders to be honest and timely in their responses. The best responses creatively use humor to make people laugh about the misstep, which can spark new campaigns and generate even more interest in your brand. Invest in your brand’s resilience and ensure that your marketing team is prepared to take advantage of any crises that occur. – Alana Sandel, Marketing For Wellness

10. Build A Social Governance Policy

Define what constitutes a crisis and develop a policy. A social listening program can help you identify emerging issues before they turn viral. By monitoring brand sentiment, you can have advanced warning on surges in social media activity. Once a crisis is identified, a well-developed social governance policy will allow for a quick and effective response to issues that have the potential to negatively impact your brand. – Larry Gurreri, Sosemo LLC

11. Don’t Let The Response Become The Story

The first tragedy of a crisis communication is when the response itself becomes the story. The second mistake is making a judgment before you know the facts. The third is reacting emotionally and making excuses. The Cinnamon Toast Crunch social team, unfortunately, violated all three principles. The key is to show empathy and let the general public know that you are on the case; the rest will take care of itself. – Kami Watson Huyse, Zoetica

12. Find Out The Validity Of The Claim First

If it’s true, then do the right thing and take ownership of the mistake. We are all human, and most people can appreciate others admitting their mistakes and asking for forgiveness. However, if the claim is false, then I think it’s important to address that fact and restate your commitment to serving others at the highest level possible. – Ryan White, Social Revelation Marketing

13. Go Big With Your PR Response

When such a claim is put out about the brand, make sure you go big with your PR response, and do it at lightning speed. Leverage this opportunity to put a spin on the original misleading claim by doing a large media campaign that builds off of it and corrects the message. Make it light and comedic, but absolutely correct the message. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne LLC