(This article originally appeared in Entrepreneur)
Even 3,000 years ago, customers were complaining. Just ask Nanni.
I have no idea who Nanni is, other than he lived in Babylonia around 1750 BC and he was super-unhappy with two shipments of copper ore he purchased from a guy named Ea-nasir. Obviously there was no Yelp at the time, or email. He couldn’t even fire off an angry letter. So what did Nanni do to express his displeasure?
He carved out his complaint on a rock. Imagine how annoyed he was to take the time to do that! Luckily for us, that rock has not only survived but is on display at the British Museum in London.
According to this reddit user, here’s what he wrote:
Tell Ea-nasir: Nanni sends the following message:
When you came, you said to me as follows: “I will give Gimil-Sin (when he comes) fine quality copper ingots.” You left then but you did not do what you promised me. You put ingots which were not good before my messenger (Sit-Sin) and said: “If you want to take them, take them; if you do not want to take them, go away!”
What do you take me for, that you treat somebody like me with such contempt? I have sent as messengers gentlemen like ourselves to collect the bag with my money (deposited with you) but you have treated me with contempt by sending them back to me empty-handed several times, and that through enemy territory. Is there anyone among the merchants who trade with Telmun who has treated me in this way? You alone treat my messenger with contempt! On account of that one (trifling) mina of silver which I owe(?) you, you feel free to speak in such a way, while I have given to the palace on your behalf 1,080 pounds of copper, and umi-abum has likewise given 1,080 pounds of copper, apart from what we both have had written on a sealed tablet to be kept in the temple of Samas.
How have you treated me for that copper? You have withheld my money bag from me in enemy territory; it is now up to you to restore (my money) to me in full.
Take cognizance that (from now on) I will not accept here any copper from you that is not of fine quality. I shall (from now on) select and take the ingots individually in my own yard, and I shall exercise against you my right of rejection because you have treated me with contempt.
But you run a business for as long as I have and you’ve probably received similar feedback once in a while. It hurts. We’ll never know how Ea-nasir responded. You would hope that he made things right.
But unfortunately, it seems that Ea-nasir did not. Kristina Killgrove, a bioarcheologist who says she “routinely pores over the skeletons of ancient populations so that she can learn about their health, diet and lifestyles,” documents in a Forbes column a litany of similar complaints against the mineral salesman and writes that “archaeological evidence from Ea-Nasir’s house at Ur, to which he seemed to have retired, suggests that his terrible business dealings caught up with him and his wealth declined.”
Regardless of whether the complaint was justified or not, both Ea-nasir and Nanni have been dead for a long, long time. The world has moved on. No one today cares about their petty little dispute. I doubt many people living during their time cared either. So when you have a customer that’s unhappy, put things into perspective.
So what’s the takeaway?
It’s that complaining customers have been a part of business for…well…forever. You can never expect to provide a satisfactory service to everyone. But hopefully, and unlike Ea-nasir, you’ll do your best to respond, admit your mistakes and fix the problem. Depending on the nature and size of the mistake, you may lose that customer forever. But there will be other customers for you to delight with your fantastic products and services. So life goes on. At least you can take comfort that your customers’ complaints aren’t etched in stone and displayed in the British Museum.
Over the years, my company has worked with thousands of small-business owners. They can be a tough bunch. Most have been satisfied with our work, but sometimes we fail. And sometimes people complain. I used to get upset, but now I have perspective. Why? Because whenever a customer complains, I think of Nanni.