You probably get feedback from customers. Sometimes you even get letters.
Occasionally (unfortunately), it’s negative.
Two weeks ago, I left my car at (an expensive) parking garage in midtown New York. When I got back four hours later, I discovered that they had left the engine running the entire time. That, combined with the $30 fee and the nasty attitude of the attendant led me to write a letter to the management company.
The response: it was my fault. When I dropped off the car, I should have taught the attendant how to turn off my Prius.
What’s the point of a letter like that? Why bother taking the time? It’s not even worth the stamp. Does the writer expect me to say, “Oh, great point! Sorry to have bothered you. I’m an idiot! In fact, I'm so stupid, I'll go out of my way to park there again next time...”
It’s pretty simple. The only productive response to a critical letter or piece of a feedback from a customer is, “You’re right...”
You’re right, I can see that you are annoyed.
You’re right, that is frustrating.
You’re right, with the expectations you had, it’s totally understandable to feel the way you do.
You’re right, and we’re really sorry that you feel that way.
Every one of these statements is true, each one is something you are willing to put into writing. It validates the writer, thanks them for sharing the frustration and gives you a foundation for an actual dialogue.
But isn’t this pandering? I don’t think so. The writer is right. They are frustrated. His opinion is his opinion, and if you don’t value it, you’re shutting down something useful.
How about, ‘you’re right, it’s reasonable to expect that we would have turned off your Prius. We’ll post a note for all our attendants so they pay better attention in the future.’ A note like this makes the customer happy and it makes your garage work better.
Someone wrote to me last week, complaining that the handwritten inscription in a book I had signed for his colleague wasn’t warm enough. I responded that he was right to be frustrated, and that if his expectations had been so high, I should either have lowered them or exceeded them. Of course he was right... with expectations like that, it’s not surprising that he was disappointed.
Arguing with a customer who takes the time to write to you does two things: it keeps them from ever writing again and it costs you (at least) one customer. Perhaps that’s your goal. Just take a moment before you launch an unhappy former customer into the world.