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Turn Complaints into Trust

May 31, 2022

Everyone makes mistakes. There are failures that I look back on with regret. But then again, life is made up of a series of failures and successes.


I’ve always been more of a technically oriented person -- not necessarily good at communicating and not having very much thought about how to handle client complaints. So, when we received a staff suggestion that the company as a whole should clarify our methodology for handling complaints, I immediately put it on our Beer Bash agenda. I learned a lot from that process, and I’d like to present a step-by-step summary of what we came up with.


1. Listen with empathy. Without interrupting, calmly and accurately confirm the facts.

  • For things that are our fault, apologize unreservedly.

  • For things that are not our fault, clarify the reason(s), maintain a supportive attitude that keeps the client’s operations moving forward.

2. Focus on the problem.

  • People can be upset about whatever happened. But that feeling can gradually be transferred to those handling the situation or the company. In talking with them, stay focused on what caused them to become upset.

  • Help them recognize that we are a part of team that will solve the problem together.

3. Clarify what is possible and what is not, and report that.

  • Apart from obviously minor things, determine what you can and cannot do.

  • Even if you feel that you can solve the problem yourself, report it to your supervisor. This allows us to see whether similar cases have occurred and share the expertise of management and colleagues, thereby potentially saving time in resolving the situation.

4. Temporary action

  • Implement measures with all possible rapidity and priority to avoid any break in the client’s immediate operational tasks.

  • A temporary action to the problem should be emphasized, even if that means a rough patch approach in some cases.

5. Permanent action (including the prevention of recurrence)

  • After implementing the provisional response, pursue a permanent action by reviewing structures and processes to prevent a recurrence and incorporate those in the company’s procedures.

6. Express thanks

  • Some people find it frustrating when pointed out their problems, but that is a critical mistake. Identifying problems helps us improve our operations, and we shall be thankful for those observations.

7. Extension to other client companies

  • In cases where the problem would occur similarly to other clients, it should be reported together with the countermeasures throughout our firm, creating a shared understanding. The permanent response should then be extended to other client companies, allowing them to integrate this into their procedures as well.

There are various possible approaches to dealing with complaints. The thing that impressed me the most within our staff during the Beer Bash was the concept of “Focusing on the problem, and by solving the problem together with the client, having them recognize that we are a team working together.” No matter how excellent the company or how talented the person working on a project may be, a mistake will eventually occur. When that happens, as long as we take ownership of that and include the client and supervisors to use all the resources to solve the problem side by side with the client, surely we will be able to restore their trust. I’m not just saying this – our staff has proven this to me on multiple occasions. When I reflect on whether I would have done it that way when I was their age, a feeling of gratitude wells up inside me.


This may be a digression, but rather than addressing complaints after they have been brought to our attention, we can get ahead of things and nip dissatisfaction in the bud by meeting regularly with our clients. When this was suggested, my name came first as someone to handle these regular meetings. The Covid crisis meant that we seldom had the chance to visit with our clients, but I think we need to create more opportunities to meet and hear what everyone has to say. In closing, let me just say “thank you” to all our staff who have given me this homework assignment.


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