“You know what I’d really like to hear more of this coming year? Complaining!” said no one ever. I recently saw a post about someone’s New Year’s resolution being to complain less. As people and as business owners and leaders, complaints are a thorn in the side, another issue on the pile to be dealt with. We view them as annoying, time-consuming, and potentially costly. What if we could shift that mindset and instead see them as opportunities?
In my former life, I worked at a legal software company. This is where I “grew up” professionally and got to know the plaintiff’s personal injury legal space. It was my home for 17 years, and it all started with a book and a mindset. Well, it all started with an ad in the newspaper (this was in the early 2000s), but my onboarding included an assignment…read the book, “A Complaint is a Gift.” I was in my early 20s, and my customer service skills to that point had been limited to working retail jobs where stock management was trained much more so than customer service. Nothing in the book was inherently revolutionary. In fact, it was common sense. The crux of the book is that customer complaints are not annoyances but nuggets of gold that can and should be used to improve and grow an organization. The book was an easy read, and it was helpful, but it was the mindset of the organization that really sealed the deal, and that started with leadership. It turns out it was the owner of the company who insisted all new hires read the book. He believed that software was important and necessary, but relationships were the goal. He grew the business by knowing clients by name, by getting to know them deeply on a personal level, by listening to their stories and sending thoughtful gifts, and by leading the organization to do the same. It permeated everything the organization did. Voicemail was outlawed because it was impersonal. Software “wishlists” were the backbone of every new version. Customers drove the business. How? By complaining.
Grow Your Business with Complaints
It seems so simple, but customer complaints are incredibly valuable pieces of feedback that can be used to improve service, develop relationships, and ultimately strengthen and grow the business. In the software world, that might take the form of a complaint about a limiting feature or an inadequate report. Those complaints are tangible and often have a relatively simple trajectory from complaint to “fix.” The same is true of product complaints. If my car’s backup camera doesn’t have a wide enough angle or bright enough lighting, that complaint can be easily translated into next year’s improved model. Customer service complaints, on the other hand, can be a bit more nuanced, but they are just as critical to improving your business, if not more so. You are in the service industry. You are meeting your clients at a low point in their lives, when they are in pain, confused about the process and timeline of a case, perhaps skeptical of attorneys, and potentially scared, angry, or grieving. Your ability to serve their needs…not only their need for financial recovery, but their need to be heard, to understand the process, and to feel like a priority…translates to your ability to create a loyal referral source and a thriving firm.
More Than Lip Service
I can’t tell you how many firms I’ve visited where one of the published and touted core values was customer service. Most firm owners know that a focus on their clients is the right approach. It’s a great marketing angle. It looks impressive posted on the lobby wall, and it sounds inspiring during the interview process. But saying it and consistently living it are two very different endeavors.
“It’s one of our core values.”
“We tell them during training.”
“They should know.”
Facepalm. It’s not enough to put a sentence in the employee handbook, tell the team to behave a certain way, and hope for the best. Exceptional client service is intentional, it is trained, and it is RE-trained. It also starts at the top. When done well and consistently, it becomes the standard.
I’ve seen it happen. At the software company, client service was such a part of culture that team members were almost shamed by other team members if they got it wrong. Dodging calls? Not returning emails? Unacceptable.
Take a look at your onboarding and training process. Is customer service part of it for all team members? Do all the systems and processes your team uses support your “customer-first” claims? A good way to know is to listen to your clients complaints. What gets in the way of them having a positive experience? If they don’t consistently hear from their legal team, create a system to ensure it happens. If they don’t have expectations set for them at every stage, consider how that can be built into your processes. Their complaints are a gift that can help your operations team view the current workflow with fresh eyes and a focus not only on efficient workflow but on effective client service.
Open Those Communication Lines
Has your firm ever attempted client surveys? They are a great tool, and we at Vista recommend conducting them not only at case resolution, but also during the life of the case. Those firms who have implemented this know that surveys can be tough. Clients can view them as a nuisance, and you often fight to get them on the phone or to click the link to complete them. You are desperate for feedback, but it can be tough to come by. However, when a client has a complaint, they are often willing and eager to talk directly. What a gift! If your firm is prepared to listen, you have a rare and golden opportunity to strengthen a relationship, improve a process, and grow your business through critical improvements.
All of us are chasing those 5-star reviews, and turning a complaint into an opportunity puts us in the place of most potential to achieve them. Train your team to hear complaints as opportunities to communicate with those very people who make having a firm possible. Train them to see clients not as “crazy,” “annoying,” or “entitled,” but as individuals going through a hard time and communicating a need. Sure, there will be some outlier clients who are unreasonable, but they are the exception, and your team has the potential to forge a relationship, help a client, and earn a review.
So Many Gifts!
A complaint is a gift to you from your customers, but they aren’t the only ones bestowing gifts. Your team and your potential hires often hand you bundles of blessings in disguise as well.
When your team comes to you with a complaint, try to hear that too as an opportunity. Is there a process that is not working? A team member who needs more training or guidance? A leader who has become toxic? Not dismissing those complaints can open your eyes to a better culture and improved employee relations.
Too, listen to the complaints of your potential and new hires. They may give you the gift of knowing your process for applying is cumbersome, your website is lacking, your onboarding weak. They are experiencing the holes in the process and bestowing upon you the gift of an opportunity to fix it.
Service providers with whom you work may have bundles of joy wrapped in complaints for you as well. They too can open your eyes to flawed processes, difficult team members, or a slow or inconsistent work product. Listen with an ear to improvement!
Truly, there are gifts all around us, waiting for a chance to be unwrapped and show us the sparkle of a better firm and a potentially improved bottom line.
As we all embark on a fresh year, and many firms begin to implement strategy, put the voice of your clients at the heart of that strategy. View their complaints not as a pain but as a chance to learn, to improve, and to grow. May this year bring you an abundance of complaints…er, gifts!