Listening is the greatest single action we can take to improve our businesses. Some say that great salespeople have the “gift of the gab,” but in contrast, great salespeople and leaders know how to listen.

Handling complaints is a particular area where many businesses get it wrong. I recently ordered some Camelbaks from a retailer. My general experience with the process was disappointing, to say the least. The staff lacked knowledge, they didn’t call me back when I left messages, I had to continually chase them for information on my order, and then one day when I called, a miracle occurred—and the freight truck had “just arrived.”

When I went to collect the products, I thought that I would mention the service levels to the owner. I would expect any person unhappy with our services to do the same so that we would have a chance to fix our systems. As I stood at the counter ready to collect my goods, I glanced upward. Hanging from the ceiling was a huge bear trap. At the centre of the bear trap was a large red button with a sign: “Complaints button—Press here.”

“Fish rot from the head down,” and it was obvious to me that the management of this store did not want to listen to my story. You should roll out the red carpet for clients who want to complain. Instead of providing feedback, I just collected my goods and left.

On average, only 4 percent of dissatisfied clients complain. However, 80 percent of the quiet majority tell 10 people, and 20 percent tell 20 people. You might be happy if you only received four complaints in a year, but that would mean you had 96 dissatisfied clients who told another 1152 people.

We use an online survey tool to encourage clients to tell us exactly what they think of our services, and we will often modify processes as a result. If we can just increase the 4 percent to 20 percent, and act swiftly on those complaints, that would result in 192 fewer people hearing about poor service in a year! You need to do everything you can to encourage feedback and then act on it—not hide behind a bear trap!

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