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“Why do you think the client said that?” 

We frequently hear from our professional services clients, “I really like the work I do, if I just didn’t have to deal with the clients!” 

Doctors, lawyers, accountants, engineers, architects, contractors are all experts in their fields. They’ve invested time and energy to learn the nuances of their trade and, if they’re succeeding, they’re good at what they do.  

However, without clients, we’ll go hungry. And, without client feedback, we don’t know how we are performing versus our clients’ expectations. 

We suggest a change in perspective, not unlike, going from “I have to go to the grocery store” to “I’m grateful I can afford to go to the grocery store, and the store has everything I need to feed my family.” 


Consider reframing client feedback and complaints.  

When criticism comes in, if you ask a member of your team, “What happened?” regardless of how nicely you ask, drilling down into the “five whys” to find the root cause, the natural instinct of the person is to defend why they took the action they did. Defensive positioning ultimately is about “I’m right, she’s wrong.” The LAST thing we want to do is promote any further distance between our staff and our clients! 

When you start to defend your actions, you’ve dismissed the client’s perception and feedback as invalid. 

It’s not natural to accept criticism, no matter how nicely framed, about ourselves. 

Instead of asking, “What happened,” replace it with, “Why do you think the client said that?” You immediately redirect the conversation from the self and onto the customer.  

You remove any option to be defensive. You cannot answer that question defensively. All you can do is empathize, and you have to LEARN and tell the client’s story. You have to FEEL the client’s experience. You have to have EMPATHY for your client and what caused them to share their pain. 


Practice this every day. When faced with feedback – either positive or challenging, phrase it this way: “Interesting! I wonder why s/he said that?”  

Practice it now – say it to your neighbor. Make this part of your daily lexicon. Interesting! I wonder why she said that?  

It’s an inescapable question that forces empathy and draws out stories. If you want to create a story-telling culture, start by asking great questions that draw out the stories. 

But for all the data, for all the nuance and psychology at play, don’t forget about the real power of feedback. 

Talk with your clients. Figure out what’s going on and understand their pain and their stories. Then tell the stories to each other. Sharing stories is the fastest way to create a client-focused culture that is positive, healthy, and engaging. Not to mention more profitable! 

So what stories matter to you? 

Can you tell a good story about a client? 

I challenge you to listen for a real story behind critical feedback from one of your clients.  Once told, you’ll have learned something true, something lasting, and something that will change you, and your company, for the better. 

Let us know if you’d like to learn more about developing organizational empathy for your clients.