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  • Writer's pictureacmm340

"What To Do When Clients Criticize Your Family Business"

The fallout from client complaints can include cancellations of services, poor word of mouth, online reviews, even lawsuits. For family owned businesses, there is an additional layer of disruption, which is when the expectation versus reality gap comes home to the family dinner table, becomes a hot topic of discussion during family events, or becomes a point of friction between family business owners. I’ve shared previously how this became a real issue in my own family business.

Added to that, ongoing client complaints can also be fatiguing for team members who often bear the brunt of irate clients.

To respond to criticism more effectively, a teamwork approach involving everyone in the business can help transform complaints into opportunities.

The process I found most effective was to shift our culture to embracing complaints and criticism. Here’s how we did it.

We started talking about them. We initially used the term “autopsy”, but found the language needed to shift. After all, nobody had died, we just had a learning opportunity.

We put a client escalation protocol in place, which provided structure, empowered our team members, and ensured that management was kept informed and could assist. I typically steered and supported my team members from behind the scenes, so that they had the opportunity to be the hero to our clients.

We avoided badmouthing our clients at all costs but at the same time, if there was a poor fit client, my team knew I would have a departure conversation with that client. This occurred very rarely, as we had systems and processes in place to work with the right fit clients.

We changed to the term “broken window” approach, where we needed to collectively resolve while at the same time learning from negative client feedback. Rather than critiquing a particular team member as having caused the problem, we reviewed the situation without blame or accusation.

As a group, we looked for recurring patterns in client complaints – perhaps there was an ongoing technology issue to resolve, a training gap, or a communication issue. We could then brainstorm ideas and solutions for how to resolve them.

Our team members became more alert, responsive, and proactive about contributing their ideas and solutions. The results were a reduction in the number of complaints, a more empowered team, and much more pleasant family dinner table discussions.

It does take time and effort to transform client complaints into opportunities but the positive outcomes such as profitability, long term clients, and a more empowered team are worth it.

Speaking of clients, whenever I’m on a zoom call, I always have flowers and this card with the quote “Go confidently in the directions of your Dreams! Live the life you’ve always imagined” by Henry David Thoreau. The flowers and the card remind us to take stock of what’s beautiful in business and life right now, while we pursue our dreams.

If you’d like to connect, chat, and see what’s blooming in my backdrop this week, you can do so here -

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