The Nicest Customer Service Complaint of All

Once in awhile a customer service issue from my retail business will get elevated to my desk, and the customer involved will be a fellow business owner.

Often these business owners will let me know early in the conversation that they too own a business. And while every person who mentions this does so for one reason — to establish credibility — how they attempt to use this credibility differs greatly.

The first group uses their credibility as a cudgel, an attempt to establish expertise and to diminish our performance beyond the actual bounds of the issue. Regardless of what these customers want in the way of compensation, they almost always want to tell me how to run my business and to feel superior

The challenge, of course, is that these customers are almost always clueless about the nature of our business and the service expectations that are realistic for our business model. Any credibility they might have gained regarding their “advice” from letting me know they own a business is almost always undercut by the “advice” itself.

Fortunately, these fellow business owners are the minority.

The Nicest Complaints of All

The second group follows an approach that I find incredibly valuable and rewarding as a business owner.

It occurs when a business owner calls and says something to the effect of…

Look, I am a business owner too. I’m not looking to get anything, I just wanted to let you know about my experience so you will know what is going on in your store.”

It is hard to describe how much I appreciate these calls. First, by letting you know up front that they don’t want anything, they have established the ultimate credibility — that they only want to help.

Sure, they want to be heard (which they are) and to feel like someone cares about their experience (which I do), but by saying they are not looking for a refund or a upgrade, they have established a powerful credibility, the lack of an ulterior motive for their call.

This instantly gives credence to both their assessment of the problem and their veracity regarding the facts of the experience.

Such an approach opens up the conversation to a different dynamic, one where I am still working to improve their experience and keep their business, and also one in which we are openly discussing the nature of the issue and perhaps the root causes that enabled it to occur.

Of course, I will often offer them something anyway. If the situation has gotten to my desk, it was probably a pretty bad experience. However, the relevant point is that they are not asking.

Feedback from fellow business owners has opened my eyes to a number of problems with procedures, with performance, and with personnel that I was able to further research and address, making positive changes that affected future customer experiences.

Now, let’s be clear. Anyone who takes customer service seriously should value all feedback. I do not care whether the customer owns a business, works in corporate America or is retired — all complaints are valuable.

That being said, I simply love it when a fellow business owner calls to critique our service. Sure, I don’t relish the fact that we dropped the ball in the first place, but I love the conversations that have resulted from these calls.

Fellow business owners have a unique perspective on the challenging constraints placed on small businesses in today’s America. They understand the tradeoffs small business owners have to make every day to create a profitable enterprise with a sustainable business model.

These fellow owners have made an impact on me. The more of these calls I have fielded, the more I have been inspired to pay it forward and to make time when possible to tell fellow business owners of an exceptional experience, good or bad, so they too can benefit from someone who “just wants them to know.”

Every complaint is a gift, to paraphrase Janelle Barlow and Claus Moller, but to my mind, the selfless complaint — made owner to owner — is the nicest complaint of all.


By Adam Toporek. Adam Toporek is an internationally recognized customer service expert, keynote speaker, and workshop leader. He is the author of Be Your Customer's Hero: Real-World Tips & Techniques for the Service Front Lines (2015), as well as the founder of the popular Customers That Stick® blog and co-host of the Crack the Customer Code podcast.

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