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How to turn a bad situation into a good one

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Lady Thatcher’s famous quote, “This lady is not for turning,” speaks of her indomitable spirit and determination. What can we learn from this as business leaders? A vital skill: the ability to turn a negative situation into a positive one.

In my nearly 25 years in business I have been fortunate indeed to be able to count the number of complaints about the service we deliver on less than one hand. Of course, the reason for that is less luck and more exemplary customer care.

The old saying of “pleasing all the people all the time” is one I deem important, and on the very rare occasions when I have had a less than 100 per cent satisfaction rating from a customer, I have taken it very much as a personal failure. As MD it’s my sole responsibility to ensure a first class service. Even it the actual failure may not have been directly caused by me, it was my fault and ultimately my problem.

Everyone makes mistakes, but it’s still a massive disappointment when something goes wrong in the most carefully laid plans. When this happens, the key is to turn the problem into something positive.

How?

  1. Own up straight away (this will always help take the heat out of the situation);
  2. Acknowledge the issue;
  3. Listen, listen, listen to the client’s perception of the situation without being defensive;
  4. Suggest remedies and get an agreement on actions (possibly from both sides);
  5. Instigate the remedial action as soon as possible;
  6. Check and continue to check with your client that they are satisfied with the remedy; and
  7. Ensure your processes are changed reviewed as needed to prevent the same situation recurring.

Something I have discovered from invoking this system is that what was potential an unhappy situation which, if not dealt with correctly, could have resulted in reputational damage, can actually achieve the exact opposite and make the disgruntled client become your best advocate.

So, although nobody wants to hear complaints, rather than seeing only the negative, try and remember just what is possible if such situations are handled correctly.

Jo Haigh is head of FDS corporate finance services and the author of ‘The Financial Times Guide to Finance for Non Financial Managers‘. 

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