When you're in business for yourself -- and especially when your knowledge and training are your primary "product" -- your professional reputation is an extremely valuable asset. Many things go into building an excellent professional reputation including:
- abiding by professional ethics
- observing high personal integrity
- holding good boundaries
- providing service commensurate with the fee
- promptly resolving consumer complaints
To my mind, there are 4 practices counselors, coaches, and all doctors can follow that will help protect your professional reputation.
1. Listen without Defensiveness
When a client has a complaint, no matter how small, listen with openness to their point of view. Try to hear it as valuable business information rather than a personal attack or judgment about you.
Receiving their perspective without getting defensive -- even in the face of their anger or upset -- will go a long way toward regaining their respect and willingness to listen to you.
2. Tell Me What You Wanted and What You Got Instead
People sometimes aren't very direct or specific in how they articulate what their complaint is. Help them sort it out by asking what did you want and what do you feel you got instead. These simple questions tend to help people feel heard and taken seriously. Often, this is all they really want.
And knowing what they wanted and didn't get from you is excellent feedback that helps you examine your service practices and make useful changes that can improve your business.
3. Make good
Always offer to make up for the mistake, misunderstanding, or unintentional mistreatment in some way. In retail businesses, customers get replacement items. In advertising, the error in your ad is corrected and re-run at no extra cost.
As counselors, coaches or NDs, we can't give back time or take back words, but we can give a make good session at no charge. If you have products -- such as CDs, books, or a dispensary -- you can offer a free product in addition, as a good faith gesture.
4. Give More than Expected
Even in customer service, an ounce of prevention is worth the proverbial pound of cure. You can build up such excellent good will with your clients by always providing more than is expected that they feel no urge to complain.
And when the occasional curmudgeon lights into you, you can still safeguard your professional reputation by going out of your way to take extra good care of them. Thank them for their complaint, let them know you value their feedback, demonstrate that you have made reasonable changes when you can, and follow up with a how am I doing now feedback card or email.
You can turn complainers into allies and good referral sources if you give their perspectives a fair hearing.
For more on this topic, read Diane Stein's Don't Be an Ostrich!