Critical Thinking – Sucking Up Complaints & Liking It

Richard Earls, Travel Research Online

Even at its best, when presented with tact and grace, criticism can be hard to take. When phrased as a complaint, criticism can be even tougher to endure. There is no doubt we have fostered a culture of complaint in our economic, political and social system. We have even trained people to complain as a way of getting windfalls in free services and goods. We seem to be saying, complain loudly enough and you get your way.

You need a response to criticism, one that demonstrates your company's no-nonsense ethic. Here is what I suggest. The next time you are criticized, say this: “Thank you."

We sometimes treat criticism as though it is more than feedback. In reality, criticism is just that, no more and no less. True, some excel at presenting their criticism in a less than kind, less than articulate or civil manner. What we don't want to do, however, is to confuse the message with the messenger.

Your company's social media platforms are an excellent vehicle for responding to criticism. Too often, however, responses are late and sometimes look defensive and evasive. British Airways once faced the unusual tactic of a consumer using a promoted tweet to complain about lost baggage. Ten hours later, the viral tweet having enjoyed a great deal of celebrity, British Airways responded with an apology explaining its social media team was available only between the hours of 9 – 5 GMT.

We should all remember the powerful amplification of social media now takes place in a public forum. This isn't the complaint department of yesterday. Facebook and Twitter are 24X7 and monitoring for your brand at any hour is neglected at your risk.

Criticism is an opportunity to evaluate how well we are performing in the context of our travel and hospitality companies. The very word “hospitality" suggests how sensitive the issue of responding to customer complaints is for our industry. Feedback gives us the opportunity to correct and hone our business practices and to improve our performance. You can only do so if you are willing to react by trying to find some value in the other's point of view. If our reaction is to immediately defend ourselves or to be angry or deny, we run the risk of missing a real opportunity for improvement.

We can choose our response to criticism. We can attempt to find value in any reaction to our services. You don't have to roll over and accept criticism. It is enough if you fairly evaluate it. Regardless of your decision, you have listened for the opportunity to improve.

If we fail to properly address criticisms, people will begin to avoid our services, often without letting us know why. As I have indicated, the worst possible feedback is silence. The truth is, criticism is often a disguised request to be more prompt, more careful or more empathetic. When we can see through the criticism to the request, we stand a better chance of not taking matters personally and moving through any conflict to an immediate resolution.

When someone is critical of the experience of dealing with your travel company, they are requesting a hearing. Your presence in the marketplace indicates your willingness to listen. Providing the opportunity for both positive and negative feedback allows your clients to enjoy a full participation in their relationship with your business.

Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things. ~ Winston Churchill

Richard Earls is the Publisher of Travel Research Online, an online travel industry resource dedicated to enhancing the professional lives of travel agents.





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