APU Careers Careers & Learning

Complaint = Opportunity: Improving Workplace Relationships

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By J. Thompson
Online Career Tips Staff

I recently thumbed my way through a popular book entitled, “A Complaint is a Gift.” It’s written by Janelle Barlow and Claus Moller with a foreword by employee culture and retail customer service rock star, Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com.

[American Public University has online degrees for retail management professionals.]

The book reinforces common business principles, but what struck me as most interesting, were how well these lessons could translate into improving interoffice relationships. No matter how good an environment, there’s always opportunity to improve communication, break down silos, and be more effective in the workplace.

One way to do this is to view your colleagues as internal clients. This only works if you’re committed to providing exceptional customer service much like Zappos.com employees are renowned for doing, and which is why their company is incredibly successful.

Good service isn’t solely predicated on your ability to entice new customers, but in your ability to support them consistently at each touch point and for the long term. It’s critical that you are always prepared to resolve issues promptly and effectively when a client expresses that he or she is not happy.

Here’s why.

According to the book, research concludes that when customers become dissatisfied, only about 1 to 5 percent will complain to management or headquarters. Fifty percent will simply walk away and will not return. The remaining 45 percent are the people who complain to customer-facing staff. Rather than react to a complaint as a negative, it should be viewed as a gift. Moreover, it’s an opportunity to repair the relationship. Often this can build more loyalty. If you lose them, customers are more apt to “speak out to the world” through word-of-mouth and social media.

Isn’t that a little similar to what happens in the workplace? By not resolving needs of dissatisfied colleagues, you run the risk of increasing the amount and the voracity of complaints to others, which can hurt your reputation. So if you ever get a complaint, don’t throw up barriers. Break them down and resolve the issue. We’re all human and there will be mistakes. The bigger mistake is not looking at a complaint as a gift.

J. Thompson is the Vice President of the Content team at American Public University. He earned an M.F.A in Screenwriting from the American Film Institute in Los Angeles and performed his undergraduate studies in English literature, political science and business management between the University of New Mexico and East Carolina University. His career insights draw upon experience as a communications vice president supporting learning management, applicant tracking, and talent and leadership development for Bank of America and other Fortune 500 firms.

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