“What is this all about? I thought we were here for X, but all I can find in the slides is Y! I expected to learn about X”
I was actually startled. A lean as we try to work, we did a Voice Of the Customer (VOC) survey in advance to check which topics they wanted to discuss. We didn’t receive much response, but with the answers received we composed a slide set which was suited for purpose.
The remark triggered me to react rather defensive:
“The main topics and objects were spread way in advance and you could decide for yourself to participate or not. Further, we did a survey in the week before this training and it was possible to add topics to the agenda. You do are in a training about X, you know.”
The remarks of the participant were taken along in the remainder of the training, but it kept me wondering if it was the best approach to address the issue. I will use the benefit of hindsight to reflect on the issue.
With the remark of the participant I was driven out of my comfort zone. I felt almost personally charged at in front of the group. I actually was attempting to let the participant understand me instead of trying to understand him. So I broke an important rule:
Seek first to understand, then to be understood. (Steven Covey, habit #5)
While I was studying on the topic of customer intimacy, it became clear to me: I didn’t put myself in the position of the customer. Even if you do a VOC survey in advance, the customer can still be unsatisfied and express his opinion or complaints.
Power to the customer
A customer complaint is actually a very powerful thing to work with, but it isn’t that easy.
The literature learns us:
- Listen. Seek to understand.
- Put yourself in the position of the customer.
- Don’t defend yourself.
- Reformulate the complaint to check if you’re on the same page.
- Give priority to the customer and his complaint.
- Find a solution together.
This fits the nonviolent communication framework very well. We learn there:
- All human beings share the same needs .
- All actions are attempts to meet needs.
- Feelings point to needs being met or unmet.
If we put it in steps:
- State the observations that you would like to talk about.
- State the feeling that the observation is triggering in you. Or, guess what the other person is feeling and ask.
- State the need that is the cause of that feeling. Or, guess the need that caused the feeling in the other person, and ask.
- Make a concrete request for action to meet the need just identified.
So if we would apply it to the situation, it could have gone something like this:
Participant: “What is this all about? I thought we were here for X, but all I can find in the slides is Y! I expected to learn about X”
Teacher: “I notice that you’re very interested in X. Do I understand you correct that you expected something else?”
Participant: “Yes, I didn’t come for Y, but for X.”
Teacher: “I feel a little uncomfortable because I really tried to adjust the course to the needs of the groups. Which topics and viewpoints do you want to see discussed in group?”
Participant: “I certainly want to know how to apply X in the context of Y.”
Teacher: “I agree, it looks interesting to me too to take that angle. Is it OK for you that we continue further and take these topics along and apply them where possible?”
Participant: “OK, thanks.”
With this approach we combine handling a customer complaint with the lessons learned from the nonviolent communication framework. We’re not pushing the customer away anymore, but we’re trying to understand his needs and make sure they are met. Further, we just defused a potential harmful situation in front of a full class room.