I was sitting in a restaurant a few days back, minding my own business, when I heard the murmurs of unhappiness from the table next to me. A lovely old couple were talking to each other about the fact that their coffee was served cold. Of course they didn’t want to make a scene (old people are so nice), but when the waiter passed by, they very politely mentioned that the coffee was cold and perhaps it could be put in a microwave to be heated up.
For the next 5 minutes the waiter lectured the couple about the proper serving temperature of coffee, why people who want it hot are basically Neanderthals and really, if they don’t like it, they should bugger of.
Wow. What was even more amazing were the final words to come out of the waiters mouth were “I own the business, that’s how I serve coffee. If you don’t like it, perhaps you should come back again”. Now for some strange reason this restaurant, that could seat about 150 people, had the old couple and me in it – at lunchtime. It was pretty obvious that the issues were more than cold coffee.
If you run a business you have to deal with the fact that there will be times when people will criticise you and your business, and as tough as these criticisms may be, we have to learn to cope with them. Sadly, many business owners (and staff who learn from the business owners) are not good at managing a complaint. Instead they go into “cry baby” mode where they lash out at the customer.
So for all the cry babies out there, here are five simple ideas that you might find helpful when dealing with criticism:
1. Remove the emotion and be analytical
It is hard not to get emotional if someone is criticising you, your staff or your business. We need to learn to take the emotion out of play and look at the facts. Instead of reacting, try being impartial and even better, put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Do they have a fair point? Have you promised something but failed to deliver?
2. The one question you need to ask?
When customers are angry, frustrated or disappointed they will want to vent a little, so let them. Once vented, and you have kept your cool, ask them this “what can I do to make you happy?” – (said in the right tone I might add). Often the customer hasn’t even thought about that, but now the conversation goes from a tirade, to actually solving the problem. This is far more productive. My advice is to ask this question as soon as possible and everyone can get on with their lives.
3. What can you do to make sure the problem doesn’t arise again?
One of the most important outcomes from any critical encounter is hopefully some clarity around how you can avoid the situation happening again. Perhaps you need to manage the customer expectations a little better, or perhaps there are some systems that need to be improved. Regardless of the details, we need to learn from any experience, even if the customer is being unreasonable.
4. Reframe your thinking – criticism is an opportunity
Whenever I am dealing with some form of criticism I always take time out after the event to sit quietly and really think about the situation. What could I have done differently? What have I learned from this experience? What can I do to avoid it happening again? By taking this approach I tend to find that during a bout of criticism I am not quite as affected by it. I am thinking about my “strategic review” of the situation and my own internal debrief that I can use to get better at what I do.
5. We are only human
At the end of the day, we are only human and sometime we get things wrong. We don’t set out to disappoint a customer, but it happens. We can beat ourselves up for months, or we can simply say we tried our best (assuming you did), but we are human and sometimes we make mistakes. And remember, mistakes or failures are where we learn a lot more about ourselves than most other situations, so they are not all bad.
Just don’t be a cry baby…….