How you respond to complaints can be the difference between keeping and losing business.

If you're in a membership business and things go wrong with a given member (and they will), how you respond to his or her complaints can be the difference between keeping and losing that person's business. Armed with the following pointers, you can defuse a situation while ensuring that the professional reputation of your facility or organization remains intact.

View complaints as gifts.

Complaints can be a source of information, innovation or inspiration. They can help you gain valuable ideas for new products or services, fix problems that could be the cause of other members leaving, or gain a member for life by resolving the complaint quickly and efficiently. Essentially, a complaint provides you with the opportunity to run your business better.

Don't take complaints personally.

A complaint is not a personal attack; it is a venting of frustration about a given situation. If you take each complaint personally, matters are sure to get worse before they get better. Don't allow what the person is saying to anger or offend you. Dealing with complaints is part of running a business, so a controlled response is key. Many discourteous complainers want to upset you, because they think you'll give in to what they want. Edit their comments in your head, so you can make sense of what they're saying without getting upset. If the language turns offensive, remind the member that you are a professional and expect to be treated like one. On the other hand, when you hear yourself saying negative things, stop. Instead, adopt a positive attitude - regardless of the attitude the angry member is giving you - and think of the best way to address his or her concern. Remember, your mood can be contagious.

Work at gaining loyal members.

The primary reason members stop patronizing a facility is because they were poorly treated. It is much more cost-efficient to retain loyal users than it is to gain new ones. But in order to create that loyalty, you have to calm down upset members and assure them that you will work to find a solution they deem acceptable. Let them know that their business is important, and thank them for their patience and cooperation. Challenging members can be frustrating, and you won't please everyone. But with the right attitude and techniques, many of these people can be turned into satisfied, loyal members.