How to Learn Amazing Lessons from Your Unhappy Clients

“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” –Bill Gates

No one I know of particularly enjoys getting complaints. We much prefer the kudos—the pats on the back from clients who tell us we’re the best. But here’s the reality: We learn much more from our complaining clients than our satisfied ones—and for that reason alone, those complainers are worth hearing out. That thorn-in-your-side unhappy client just might provide a key to helping your law firm reach new heights of success.

Why Your Unhappy Clients Are Valuable to Your Business

Why, exactly, should you be grateful for your complaining, unhappy clients?

  • A complaining client wants to make it work. The one thing you don’t want is an unhappy client who simply votes with his feet—who fires you without explanation. Marten Mickos of School of Herring puts it this way: “If a customer complains, it doesn’t mean they are going to abandon you, necessarily. It actually is a sign of commitment. They’re taking the time to complain to you about the product, because they want it to work.”
  • Solving a problem for one unhappy client solves it for others. For every person who lodges a complaint, there are usually several others who feel the same way but won’t say a word. By listening and responding well to an unhappy customer, you could be patching a hole in your net which will stop other clients from getting away.

Making the Most of Complaining Clients

For the maximum learning experience from an unhappy client, I recommend the following:

  • Begin by expressing empathy and apologizing. Becoming defensive with a client is the quickest way to lose her, even if you’re in the right. Let the client know you’re taking her complaint seriously.
  • Get the details. Ask questions to clarify and listen to the client’s answers. You may discover deeper reasons for the client’s dissatisfaction that can better inform the solution.
  • Solve the problem as best you can. To whatever extent you can make the client happy again (without sacrificing your business, of course), take the steps necessary to do so.
  • Find the larger lesson. Determine whether the source of the complaint was a chance anomaly or the result of a systemic failure in your office. If you can find the root cause, you can prevent similar problems in the future.

Positive feedback encourages. Negative feedback teaches. We all need encouragement once in a while to help us stay the course, but we also need teaching moments in order to grow. Unhappy clients, while sometimes unpleasant, actually show us our areas of weakness so we can shore them up and make our law firms stronger overall.

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