Don’t be so sensitive about complaints

It was a great radio commercial that brought a smile to everyone who heard it. The message was on-target, reassuring, and powerful.

And after it had aired for a week, a panicked bank president pulled it. You see, he had received angry phone calls about it. Two of them.

During the commercial, a toddler refused to set foot on an escalator, whimpering, “I’m a-scared.” It’s a situation familiar to most parents, which is why the spot connected so well.

One caller was aghast that the bank would allow a child to use an expression as ungrammatical as “I’m a-scared” in its advertising. The other scolded the bank for making children fear escalators.

Yes, those were the complaints the bank president received. And in a market with literally millions of radio listeners, they were the only two complaints he heard.

Humans are funny animals. Most of us crave approval as much as we need food, water and shelter. We don’t like it when people disagree with us, and we’ll go to great lengths to sidestep confrontations.

Unfortunately, that trait leads us to overemphasize negative feedback. I’ve seen it happen innumerable times in business settings. A company will make a key decision about advertising or a product based on a negative comment from a very small group that really isn’t representative of the overall audience or target.

It can be tough to remain confident in the face of complaints, but if you’re convinced that you’re taking the right actions and have made the right choices, you shouldn’t blink. If even 10 percent of people don’t like your new commercial, it means that 90 percent still do, and I’d rather cater to that 90 percent than fret over the small group.

I’ve worked with other organizations that received complaints about ads. Even some who were willing to create a bit of controversy. They recognized that some people who saw those ads would never do business with them, but they also knew the complainers weren’t going to be customers either way. In most cases, the customers they desired enjoyed the messages and were supportive.

If you’ve made the right decisions and your products, your advertising, or other business activities support those decisions, don’t be afraid to stay the course. When the inevitable complaints come in – and they will, no matter how well-intentioned your efforts – don’t panic. Tell them you appreciate their feedback, and promptly forget about it. That’s all you need to do.

Is it good to listen to what your customers say about your advertising or other business practices? Absolutely, but only if you remember that the customer isn’t always right. Sometimes, the customer is simply deranged. Don’t be crazy or fearful enough to let those customers drive your business decisions.