Friday, November 12, 2004

Two magic words, big effects ...

I just read an interesting story from the Associated Press, 'Sorry' Seen As Magic Word to Avoid Suits, that serves as a reminder of something that too few people do. If you screw something up, say sorry and get on with fixing it. So many of the complaints to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, in my reading, are based on minor incidents that should never have gotten to a formal complaint. Many could have been resolved by handling the complaint differently.

In my experience, there are three kinds of "complainers". The first is the "complainer", who is bound and determined to complain, no matter what. The second kind, who I call "the martyr", adopts whatever bad thing they experienced as a cause and are bound and determined to make sure their suffering is well known and will not happen to anyone else. The third kind (who is missing a snappy nickname) just wants it fixed, if possible, and wants to hear sorry. The complainer usually can't be satisfied. The martyr can be satisfied, if you can show him/her what you've fixed so that it won't happen again. The third is easily confused with the complainer, but is closest to the martyr. Fixing the problem so it won't happen again and saying sorry will satisfy them. Case closed.

The sad thing is that, if you get very defensive with any of them, it will be a big production with all the associated lost time and expense.

The moral of the story is to (i) listen to the person, (ii) identify the problem, (iii) fix the problem, (iv) tell them it's fixed and (v) say sorry. If they are a complainer, then there is more work to be done. If they are among the latter two categories, you can go on with your day knowing that you've probably saved a lot of time and bother. But you've probably also saved the customer relationship, which is also important.

End of Psychology 101 for today, class...

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