I LOVE complaining. It’s probably a female thing: just substitute nagging for complaining and you’ll see where I’m coming from. But most of us complainers, and I’m including my male counterparts here, just aren’t very good at it.

Aristotle once said: “Anyone can become angry. That is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose and in the right way – that is not easy.” How true.

We tend to raise our voices, swear at the wrong person, stamp our feet a little, demand to see someone higher up the authority tree, threaten to tell the press and all our friends, and ultimately sulk when we don’t get our own way. What we don’t do is offer a suggestion – polite or otherwise – on how to remedy the problem. We are not constructive when we complain, so how can we expect a fair outcome?

But we’re even worse at receiving complaints graciously. Someone complaining is really giving you an opportunity to redeem yourself in his or her eyes. They haven’t just pissed off to the competition telling them how bad you guys are, which is the most common result from bad service or a crap product. And it’s a fact that 95% of customers who complain will remain loyal to you and recommend you to their friends and business associates if you remedy their complaint effectively. So it makes financial and business sense to be good at solving complaints.

Seen through the eyes of someone who is focused on continually improving their business, a complaint is the perfect chance to learn from your mistakes. I once read the story of a billion dollar corporation in the States, where a young marketing executive made a mistake costing the company somewhere in the region of a million dollars. Carpeted by the CEO, the young guy expected to be sacked, only to be told that the company had spent a million dollars training him and wasn’t likely to send him off to the competition having learned such an expensive mistake. Apocryphal? Maybe. It certainly highlights the correct approach to learning from mistakes, doesn’t it?

But surprise surprise. That’s yet another area in which we in Scotland appear to be less than adequate. Not so our counterparts south of the border. You see Yorkshire Forward, (YF) a regional development agency, has launched its very own business birthrate strategy – and claims to have learned from the mistakes made by Scottish Enterprise.

Now how come they managed to learn from our mistakes before we did? Apparently, SE is sharing the gory details of all its mistakes with their Yorkshire counterparts at regular meetings. Can you believe this? Alex McWhirter, YF’s development manager, actually said: “All the RDAs (regional development agencies) are looking carefully at what Scotland has achieved.”

Hmm. Yes. Right. That shouldn’t take too long. They are probably ploughing carefully through the long list of errors and having a little snigger to themselves. I mean, their strategy is going to cost a mere £32million over three years, compared with the inordinately expensive SE strategy which cost the tax payer £140million over seven years. That’ll be lesson one learned quickly: YF go straight to the top of the class.

I’m probably being a bit unfair. 20:20 hindsight is a wonderful thing. But listening carefully to complaints and learning quickly from your mistakes is almost as good. Recognise where you have gone wrong, fix it, and make sure you don’t do it again. It’s simple really.

NB: This post is from my 10 Years Ago Today series.