Replying to complaints

From polite and not so polite complainers

Often complaints can be the impetus to
fix a giant mistake or just
make an better experience for the next customer

If you have been in business for more than 20 minutes, somebody has probably complained about something you did or did not do right.

How you handle these suggestions can affect the progress you and/or your business will make.

A stereotypical grandmother will probably tell you that your garden is lovely even if it’s really not. She’s being polite or perhaps, she thinks, encouraging.

Oh, dear, you just can’t grow palm trees in Boston

A master gardener will tell you if a plant is invasive or just not suited to your area.

But let’s say your grandmother IS a master gardener. She will tell you that you can’t grow palm trees in Boston. She’ll keep coming to visit and she’ll keeps trying to tell you what’s not working in your garden.

If you’re not smart, you grumble to your friends about that “idiot old woman” who can never be satisfied with what you’re trying to do.

If you are smart, you listen to her advice and find something else that will grow better in your yard.

Further, I’m just guessing that this lovely kind grandmother will continue for some time to help you with your plans. Sometimes, perhaps she’ll be less patient with your efforts. But you know she was right about the palm trees so you keep trying to hear her points.

But if you don’t acknowledge her expertise, or say, at the very least, thank you, she’ll quit poking her nose in your business.

You might be happy about that because it’s way easier to not be annoyed with all the “help.”

On the other hand, your Boston neighbors will laugh hysterically when at your palm trees fall over in the snow and die.

How many Dear Abbey columns have you read where the grandmother says, “I’m just not sending any more checks. The kid never says thank you!”

What’s this rant about?
The folly of ignoring the expertise of outsiders by a business or organization

Sometimes the person complaining, we’ll call that person Gene, has no tact at all and calls the organization to task on obvious missteps. Leadership feels their collective blood boil when they see a comment from Gene. In an all too human way, they just want to shut Gene up and avoid any confrontation.

So they miss the jewel of wisdom in the conversation.

Sometimes the person complaining, we’ll call that person Kelsey, has a good history with the organization, specific needed skills and a habit of knowing when things won’t go as planned. Kesley has a bit more tact than Gene, but the longer Kelsey’s contributions are ignored, the less generous Kelsey is with advice.

Not everyone has the skill or social grace to criticize constructively.
But by ignoring the information, in either case, the organization suffers.

Don’t miss the message for the attitude

Some people will say that complaints written in email tend to be overly blunt, that the reader can’t always hear the intended tone of the writer.

However, the advantage of email is that the reader CAN take a few minutes to get past the rant and find the jewel in the pile of doo-doo and then, take a high road in response.

If the master gardener says you can’t grow palm trees in Boston, ask for suggestions of what you could grow to give you the same feel of height or architectural interest that you were aiming for.

If someone complains about your website, ask for specific things you should consider doing.

Do a little research over the suggestions. The Great Google knows everything. And without too much investment of time, you could find support for the suggestion or a different way to address the issue.


Photo credit: by: Ian Britton at

Author: Kerch McConlogue

Harrisburg, PA: A WordPress front end web developer who speaks plain-English to nonGeeks

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