Wow! That’s all I can honestly think of to say to start off the blog for this month. All of the Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday excitement REALLY made this past month fly by. Now is the time to really savor the moment, as this next month will be so loaded with hustle and bustle, Christmas decorating/ shopping/ events, and holiday cheer that you may not even realize you actually do enjoy this time of the year!
Now, in last month’s blog I wrote extensively on how to control yourself around the family and other “loved ones” during this time of the year (I love those family meetings, especially while opening gifts in the soft glow of Christmas lights). We learned that we really CAN control how we react to others, especially those who do try to flare our bad sides up, and/ or push our buttons on a regular basis. While written specifically for handling family matters during the holidays, it’s also our customers during work time that can really make you go haywire on top of it all, and of course they always pick the most stressful day, time (right before you leave work every day), and holiday season to start.
So with no further ado, let us in general terms discuss why customers complain, what their expectations are, and how we can effectively diagnose their issues so that we in turn can go home and work on our own!
Key Points in Managing Customers
1. Know customers expectations before they call or walk through the door
Knowing what customers want ahead of time is the main way to prevent complaints in the first place. Customers want the same thing you want first and foremost when you frequent an establishment: respect. Customer expectations are everything, and if they feel underappreciated or devalued, you may very well lose that business forever (in addition to the negative word of mouth that undoubtedly spreads to countless others, made worse through the use of social media).
Always offer basic courtesies to even the most problematic customers (we don’t need any lawsuits anyone!). Know your companies’ protocol, mission, and overall vision to be portrayed to visitors. Other customer “needs” to consider:
- Competent, friendly, efficient service (“Hello? Can anybody hear me in this store? Where did everybody go?)
- Value of what’s paid for ($8.50 side salad with no cheese or veggies- c’mon!)
- Anticipation of needs ahead of time
- To be listened to (and heard)
- Not to be passed around (this is especially true for phone calls, and boy I still despise those lengthy, computer answering phone systems when I just need a human voice)
TIP: Knowing the above pointers will help you prepare for all of the different types of customers that come in, and assists in avoiding most complainers in the first place. However, there is always going to be the one customer who, no matter what, will find, or even invent, something to complain about. While we should constantly strive for ideal customer relations, the reality is to be prepared and not caught off guard when we DO eventually encounter the “complainer”. Take several deep breaths, and once again be reminded that bad choices, even at work, usually come with bad consequences attached.
2. View all complaints as beneficial to the organization
This can be grueling, and does require you to at times sacrifice your self-image to the deeper commitment of company vision and standards, at least while at work. Back at home, you can scream, yell, vent, or whatever your stress-reliever is, even if not always positive. At work though, we must remain calm and paint the prettiest of pictures always, which is next to impossible at times.
There is a Golden Rule to respect in these type of situations: DO acknowledge the customer and their problem, let them know you clearly understand what they are explaining to you, and always at the end be clear in offering up a solution in which both the customer and business can mutually agree upon (don’t offer exaggerated freebies, discounts, etc. overly commensurate than the complaint). Let the customer become a partner in the solution process. Show you care, actually thank them for bringing the problem to your attention, and don’t get defensive (people release ill will when they talk).
DON’T ever make excuses, offer alternative businesses providing the same product as yours, ignore the customer altogether, or treat them badly. Remember complaints should be seen as an opportunity by the business to retain that relationship, and perhaps others with the same concerns that just don’t voice them to the organization. These “complainers” want to know the business is acknowledging and rectifying their plea of a situation gone poorly, or that hasn’t quite lived up to their ideal expectations (even if unrealistic- “dream vacation” gone wrong anyone?).
3. Don’t take it personally
It can be hard when a customer is right in your face (and yes, you can take it personally if it’s Black Friday). All joking aside, we must remain in the third-person when dealing with hardcore customers. When the situation arises, you are now the representative “face” of the business. Really bad experiences can “scar” that individual’s image of your company for the rest of their life (and yes, they’ll remember every bit of the bad experience, including your face).
The trick is to flip this same philosophy on its head and know that yes, I AM the face and voice of my company to this, and really all, customers, and need to follow procedures and protocol in all situations, especially the difficult ones. If need be, get a manager involved. If you are the manager, use extraordinary patience, patience, patience! Like you yourself would want, keep an open understanding ear, and don’t attempt to “override” the customer (talk over them, etc.), or “shush” them on their way out the door or off the phone.
Even if the customer gets personal against you, absolutely DO NOT get aggressive in return! As you are already all too aware, some folks are just looking for that sort of rise to get out of someone. When you react this way, it’s getting personal, which leaves a lot more to be desired by the customer, and actually gives them more to attack and to feed their negative energy with. You ARE good at your job, even if you have to recognize and accept customers too have bad days once in a while.
4. Different types of complainers require different strategies
We can prevent most complaints with offering great customer service right off the bat, but we also understand that each situation, and customer, is unique. Therefore, so are complainers. Here are some of the most common:
- Individuals with ruined dreams (the reality doesn’t match what they had as a fantasy in their mind)
- Freebie-lovers (these types love saving money and can be rip-off artists)
- The quiet complainer (they won’t say anything at the store, but boy, they’ll tell everyone they know back at home just how awful your business is)
- Aggressive complainer (loud, obnoxious- everyone in the immediate vicinity will KNOW something is amiss, which is bad for business)
- Chronic complainer (we all need repeat business as 80% of business comes from our top 20% of customers, but this person always has something negative to bring up once in the store)
TIP: Knowing the different types of complainers is useful in pre-identifying what makes them tick. Adopt to each accordingly. Prepare responses for each scenario in your mind, and stress to yourself that freebie-lovers should only receive back the value of the complaint (and only if it’s a “real” issue); with the aggressive type you can’t cave-in by taking it personally and attacking them back. Chronics require the utmost patience (never tell them to take their business elsewhere as they DO like your company and offerings- it’s just their personality-type).
Although not to a be-all-end-all for dealing with customers and their complaints, I hope you were able to think a little deeper this month about who’s paying your paycheck when your buying the kids their Christmas gifts this season. It’s really the customers, and we take the proverbial pledge that “the customer is always right”, even when we know their not.
If you win the fight (and does it matter if you are right, really?), you’ll lose the customer. You can be right or you can have empathy, but you can’t do both. Customer service goes beyond a smile. It’s about work, people, processes, coping techniques, and even additional training if necessary. If something does go wrong, which it inevitably will, IMMEDIATE service recovery is vital to repair the situation. Bring out the best in even the worst offender, don’t react negative to negative situations, and you might just make it through the busy season to 2013 in one piece.
Happy Holidays to you and yours, be safe and courteous to everyone you meet right now, and thanks for reading!
FINAL TIP: I too can be an “over-apologizer myself with customers, which is fine in most scenarios. However, in cases of a customer saying they were injured or are ill because of the business, DO NOT APOLOGIZE! It can be used against the company in court as an admission of guilt.