Listening – Complaints

As we are studying listening skills in the context of enrollment, I wanted to talk about a common business concern – customer complaints.


In any business, there will be complaints.  I work a lot with small business owners and among those who seem to get the most complaints are service providers, such as plumbers and appliance repair people.


In my class on business tools for small business owners, we spend significant time on the art of listening to a complaint.  Where many of my clients start when I first meet them is with a fear of complaints; or an attitude of annoyance.  Most service providers try to appease the complaining customer, but often it does not work.  Why is that?  I believe it comes back to the complaint receiver’s ability to listen well and fully.  When someone is upset, be it a customer, an employee or a child, the first and foremost thing they desire, is to be heard.


Of course, when someone comes to us with a complaint, especially when they are angry, the very last thing on our mind is to hear them.  We are usually thinking, “How can I make them go away?”  And to this end, we do one of several things:


  • We agree with everything they say
  • We promise to fix it in some way
  • We explain why it happened in the first place
  • Sometimes we even let them know we find them unreasonable and we have no intention of trying to help them


Notice that in none of these solutions is there any element of listening.  What would it sound like to listen?


Customer (calling the store):  You know, your tech was 30 minutes late to my house today and he didn’t even fix my problem.


Store representative:  Thanks for calling to tell me about it.  (Reflecting emotion):  You sound upset.


Customer:  Darned right, I’m upset!  I waited around all morning and still did not get my problem fixed.


Store representative:  (Reflecting)  That sounds like it would be annoying.  (Curious) Tell me what happened.


Customer:  [Explains]


Store representative:  (Reflecting, restates the entire content of what the customer has said.) Did I get that right?


Customer:  Yes.


Store representative:  (Having fully heard the problem, can then move to solution and so has options of what to say.)  “What can I do for you?”   Or “Here’s what we can offer you…”



What do you do when you receive a complaint from a customer, an employee, a child?  Try this out and let us know what you think!



About the Author

Picture of Cami McLaren

Cami McLaren

is the owner of McLaren Coaching. She has been coaching professionals and leaders since early 2008. She runs Transformative Coaching Essentials, a coach training program that produces first rate Professional Coaches and "Coach-Style Leaders." She coaches individually and works with organizations to improve communication, time management, productivity and ultimately bring greater results.

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