Fire away!

View from an airplane window at the wings and flying over a scenic landscape of green hills and rivers
A local discount store had this content on the cover of its recent sales circular in the newspaper:

“I appreciate complaints.

I really would like to know what you think of our stores…how you’ve been treated, the quality of our merchandise, the fairness of our prices, the good deals you’ve scored, the times you’ve been disappointed…for without your feedback, we can’t make things right…for you or for our employees. Thanking you in advance for your comments, both good and bad.
Why solicit complaints? If we are doing something that irritates or offends you, it probably irritates or offends other people. I know we have plenty of room for improvement and that our customers see things and experience things that we can’t. If you share your information and observations with us, we have a CHANCE to correct them. We think that’s a “win-win” deal.

Praise is also welcome…it makes it worthwhile emotionally, which probably is almost as good!”

The invitation to customers to support this company being better at its work couldn’t be clearer. I love that! And I wonder, what our growth as people and organizations would be like if we openly encouraged complaints. Not the focus group or “put your anonymous note in the complaint box” type of complaints, but serious, thoughtful, inspired complaints that are offered as a tool for us to grow, to change, to rise up, to be better! And what would it be like to allow people a moment to vent also, a clearing moment, “getting something off of your chest” kind of venting so that when the energy has passed, a constructive complaint can emerge? What are we afraid of? What holds us back from leaping in? All we have to do is listen!

In the non-profit world, the stakes are too high for everyone to simply “take my business elsewhere…” when a complaint (or series of complaints) goes unaddressed. Organizations must make it a regular practice to collect information from supporters and respond to it. Quickly. Authentically. And on the flip side, supporters of non-profits must kindly, productively, honestly, helpfully offer up ways for the organizations we support to grow while standing by, not threatening to leave, being a part of the change we wish to see. And complain we must!

Supporting a non-profit is typically relational, not transactional. I am invested in a non- profit organization because I am in relationship with it, its staff, volunteers, and other supporters. It is important to me and central to my life. I feel very different about my relationship with my clinic or library or community center or school than I do about a department store or supermarket or utility company. While the for-profit institutions may call me a member or valued patron and my business may be valuable to their bottom line, my relationship with them is pretty thin; I purchase what they have. I do recognize how many for-profit institutions do a much better job at appreciating my business than others (I suppose the relationship can deepen, actually create some loyalty–thanks, Costco!), but for the most part, I am not invested in their success or failure. With the non-profits I care about, I really care…enough to speak up when they are great and when they fall short. And I stick with them!

So complain today! Get it off your chest. And what would it take for you to offer your complaints in a manner that deepens your relationship with the person or organization receiving your complaint? What would it be like for you to complain and feel better and create an opportunity for the other person to grow (vs. alienate them with your words and energy)?

Enjoy the day!


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Gary M. Groth, MS, PCC, CPCC

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