Earning respect and loyalty by embracing criticism

If you’re pleased with our work, tell a friend. If you’re not, tell us. I remember the first time I read that expression. I was 16 and getting my car repaired at a garage owned by one of my friends’ parents. They stamped it on every invoice. It was so simple and eloquent.

I don’t know about you, but one of my biggest fears is making a mistake, letting somebody down, and never knowing it happened. How can I learn from my mistake, grow as a professional, and make amends for something I don’t even know happened?

For years, when a company messed up, most of the time they’d never know about it. Most people just don’t have the time or inclination to complain about bad outcomes, unless it involves a really important topic. Instead, most folks just stop patronizing the business and tell friends about the bad experience. The business never knows it happened, never has a chance to apologize and fix it, and can’t take steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Social media has transformed the way people share experiences – both good and bad. Word of mouth that used to percolate slowly through a group can now be broadcast to the world instantly. Whether that is good news or bad news depends on what actions you’re willing to take.

If you’re eager to engage in a conversation with your customers, build deeper relationships, and seek opportunities to improve your product or service, then the social media revolution should be a blessing to your business.

Unless you’re perfect, your company is perfect, and all of your customers are perfect, the day will come when somebody makes a mistake or a customer is confused. When that day comes, you should be crossing your fingers that somebody brings it to your attention.

When a customer chooses Facebook, Twitter or another social media outlet as the channel for asking question or voicing complaint, you’ve just been handed a golden opportunity to improve your business, show the world that you care about your customers, listen to what they say, and do everything you can to take care of them.

Also keep in mind that if one person asks a question, odds are pretty good that lots of other people are wondering the same thing. By providing the answer in a public forum, you’re building a living FAQ document – an archive other customers can easily access to find answers to common questions. It also helps a company identify areas where it might need to improve its systems and processes.

Of course, there are some industries where confidentiality considerations preclude a company from providing a complete answer in a public forum. For example, we have worked with a handful rural electric cooperatives around the country, and it would be inappropriate for them to discuss a specific customer’s account information in public. But the co-op could give general information about common reasons something might happen in the public forum, and follow up by phone or email to discuss the specific concern directly.

Companies that operate in heavily regulated industries should consult legal counsel for guidance on the rules governing what can and can’t be said through social media channels. Most of the time, the communications team and the legal team should be able to work out a solution that makes everybody happy.

People are remarkably forgiving. It’s amazing how far a simple statement like, “I’m sorry. Here’s what I’m going to do to make it right,” will go toward resolving an issue. If you want to create a satisfied customer, deliver great service. If you want to create a loyal customer for life, act with integrity when you make a mistake.