Janelle Barlow’s new book is titled A Complaint is a Gift: How to Learn from Critical Feedback and Recover Customer Loyalty. As the title suggests, the book’s central topic is about how to navigate the potentially troubled waters of the corporate-client relationship, using missteps and faulty moments for one’s long-term, commercial gain. It’s an expert balance ideologically of how postmodernist and traditionalist thought can go hand-in-hand, and win one the day in present time. Barlow writes in this kind of unpretentious, deliberately simplistic house style, never resorting to overtly fancy lingo at the expense of wide audience comprehension. This not only makes the book easily digestible and enjoyable as a nonfiction literary experience, but makes Barlow feel trustworthy. She’s confident enough in the material to take the time to make the uninitiated feel as comfortable and placated as possible.
That sort of generosity is two-fold, as it puts the money where Barlow’s mouth is with respect to ideology and methodology, plus it shows Barlow to be a true believer in the potential of what she advocates so strongly for. There’s no faux-passion here, it’s all just straight truths. “One of the most potent realities about complaints is customers will accept many mistakes—as long as service representatives handle their complaints positively,” Barlow writes. “Fix the problem, for sure, but do it with emotional intelligence, and you will likely get customers who come back and sing your praises. Fix the problem without any human connection, and you may lose customers permanently or at least not get full cooperation from them.
This requires a mindset that pivots on whether you and your entire team think about complaints as gifts…Communication about dissatisfaction is one of the most critical exchanges between customers and your organization. This contact offers a chance to take ideas from the marketplace and implement them. With it, we have an opportunity to fix problems that customers have discovered. It also signals whether or not they get the goods and services they were promised on time and that their feelings matter and must be taken into account. Whether you can actually give the customers what they want is important, but often that is unrealistic or impossible. In fact, you’ll see that how you handle your customers’ complaints can be as important as solving their problems. When handled well, customers will walk away feeling heard and taken care of and therefore are likely to stay with you. In addition, emotionally satisfied customers will doubtlessly recommend you to others.”
In short, as Barlow herself states: “Complaints—and feedback—are gifts. This mindset, and how to deliver it, is what this book is all about.” Turn the clock back and look at business practices twenty years ago, this would have been apocryphal. It would have been, for some high-handed traditionalists, unspeakable. But this is the name of the game in the post-digitized age, and I appreciate how through the writing Barlow shows – not just tells us – of this reality.