grace1 Grace and the Art of ComplainingWe love to complain. We love to tell others about the injustices that have been done to us. You know, the horrible things like having to wait in line a little longer than we’d like, or not getting service with a smile. We’ve mastered the art of complaining about every little inconvenience, or as they are known in social media: #FirstWorldProblems.

Yesterday, I was helping out my friend Christina at her stand at Lancaster’s Central Market, when a semi-regular customer walked up and engaged her in conversation. As the conversation waned, Christina took the time to thank the gentlemen for “complaining” to her about something three years ago, shortly after they purchased the stand. Maybe complaint is too strong a word, because what he really did was bring something to her attention about a product that just wasn’t quite right. Rather than get upset and defensive, Christina took the time to listen and make the necessary changes. And here she was thanking him, well after the fact, for letting her know about the problem. In fact, she says it’s things like that that helped her move forward and build a successful business.

The beauty of this is that both the customer and the business acted in a spirit of grace.

Grace. I’m not sure we see much of that any more, at least in the world of social media. We’re too quick to attack at every perceived slight we receive at the hands of others.

There are a few lessons here, both for us as consumers and for business owners.

Lessons for Customers

  • When you complain, go private first. Do you really need to make a scene and a spectacle? Do you really need to let the world know that your coffee was cold or that you were inconvenienced a little by having to wait in line? Sure, some complaints aren’t so trivial, but why not take your complaint privately to the person who needs to hear that complaint?
  • Think long and hard before going public. Even if you take your complaint to the right person in private, and you don’t get satisfaction, is the offense large enough to warrant telling the world on Facebook or Twitter?
  • Complain with grace. Well, this isn’t really “complaining,” per se. I guess the better way to put it is that we need to offer constructive criticism. Businesses really do want to know when something goes wrong. Is your goal to tear the business down, or to help them become better? Your answer to that question can be very telling.

Lessons for Businesses

  • Invite feedback. Let your customers know that you want their comments, both positive and negative. Let them know that their feedback is incredibly valuable to you as you seek to improve your products and your customer service.
  • Accept complaints with grace. Even if the customer is rude or obnoxious, be graceful in how you hear what they are saying. You might not like their tone, but you need to hold your tongue, and listen.
  • Respond carefully. This is the next logical step: don’t fight back. Don’t respond in anger or hurt. Respond in grace, even if they haven’t shown you any grace. The last thing you need is to let something like this escalate, especially in public. You know that old saying about how you can attract more bees with honey than vinegar?
  • Take it private. Even if they complain publicly, try to take the conversation offline. The world doesn’t need to see how things play out, and it’s much safer for both you and the customer that way.
  • Listen. Not all complaints are unwarranted. In fact, most of them probably contain at least a grain of truth. Take them as a form of constructive criticism, and see if you need to make any changes in the way you do things, or in the products and services you sell.

I know this is somewhat of a pipe dream. People will continue to complain loudly on social media, or in public. And business owners will continue to make mistakes in how they respond.

But we can at least try to act with grace. Can’t we?

How have you seen either side of this play out in your business, or even in what you have observed online?