Four Customer Dissatisfaction Categories

thumbs-down1Years ago, I was in Prince Edward Island facilitating a customer service workshop. When we started discussing the question “What are some things that make your customers angry?” one of the participants said “Snowstorms and I have no idea what to do when someone yells at me because the roads and airports are closed and they can’t get off the island.”

There are times when our customers are angry and upset because we messed up.  And then there are the times our customers are angry and upset because of something we have absolutely no control over, like the weather.  When it comes to knowing how to manage those moments, start by taking a moment to list as many causes for customer frustration as you can think of.  Next identify which of the four following categories they fall under:

Unrealistic expectations:  Sometimes our customers come to us believing we provide a product or service that we don’t.  Now ask yourself, “Why don’t we offer this product or service?  Is this something we can do?”  If the answer is yes, make it happen.  If the answer is no (and sometimes it is), who does offer this product or service? Then be prepared to send your customer there.

Policies and procedures:  I had a friend walk into a restaurant about 11:00 am.  He ordered the Denver omelet. The server said “We don’t serve breakfast after 10:00.” So my friend flipped to the sandwich section and ordered a Denver sandwich.  No problem with that order!

Take a good, long look at your policies and procedures.  Who are they designed to protect … you or the customer?  Do they make sense to the customer? Chances are they might not, for the simply reason your customer doesn’t understand all the ins and outs of running your business. So have some fun or be prepared to offer an alternative.  I imagine my friend would have shared the above story from a whole different perspective if the server had said something like “We don’t serve from our breakfast menu after 10:00 am, so how about I ask the cook to make you a Denver sandwich, with the bread on the side?”

Human error: This list could get long.  Focus on the errors that happen most often or have the most significant impact on the overall customer experience. Ask yourself “Why are they happening and what can we do to prevent it.” Then take action.

External factors:  There are some external factors that come at you out of the blue.  Your customer may have had a fight before leaving home for the day or had terrible, horrible, very bad day at work or just received some difficult news.  There are some external factors you can pretty much count on.  Plan for those.  For example, if you run a business in PEI, chances are pretty good that at some point in any given year, bad weather will hit, roads and airports will be closed and customers will be stranded.  Work with your team to recognize the frustration and teach them how to respond with empathy. What can you do to help them pass the time?  Perhaps some games or a quiet room for them to read or get caught up on other work.  Who will keep them up-to-date on travel updates?

When you and  your team view complaints positively, instead of looking at them as a negative, they provide clues on how to improve the service you and your company provide. Changing the focus from a negative to a positive helps you be in the right mind set to successfully manage those moments when they arise.

(Excerpt from “Customer Service from the Inside Out”)

The Art of Handling Complaints with Grace

handsome manThe one thing everyone in the service industry can be 100% sure of is that at some point, a customer will be unhappy, disappointed and perhaps even angry.

Sometimes a customer’s complaint is justified.  Mistakes happen.  Other times, the customer is wrong and the reason for their disappointment or anger is not because of anything we failed to do or not do.

Regardless of the validity of the customer’s complaint or criticism, it is our choice to respond defensively or with grace.

Here are four defensive responses many of us instinctively turn to.

  1. Making excuses: This is acknowledging that something may be wrong and then putting the blame on someone else. For example:  Front desk shouldn’t have told you we had microwaves in the room.
  2. Cross complaining: Cross complaining is deflecting responsibility on the person complaining. For example:  If you had told us there was a problem with the heating, we could have given you another room.
  3. Yes-Butting: This is where we pretend to agree, and then with one simple “but” we demonstrate we really don’t agree.  For example: Free parking is nice, but our hotel charges a $10 fee per day.
  4. Closed body language: A poker face, crossed arms, clenched jaw, shifting from side to side or avoiding eye contact says “I don’t hear you” even if you’re using all the right words.

The problem is that when we respond defensively, we invalidate the thoughts, frustration or anger the other person is feeling, and when we do that, we are saying “I don’t hear you.” This very often leads to the unhappy customer saying it again, but this time more loudly. So we get more defensive, they get louder, we get more defensive, and so on and so on and so on.  It’s an ugly cycle that nobody wins.

Customers very seldom care about the “why”. They don’t care who made the mistake or who is to blame. They want their feelings to be validated, they want someone to listen to them and they want a solution to their problem.

So what’s the solution? What can we do to handle complaints with grace?  Below are eight steps to help manage an unhappy or irate customer.

  1. The first and most important step is to take a step back from ego. Don’t take the complaint or criticism personally, even if the person complaining makes it sound personal, with the use of the word “you”.  Taking a step back from ego also gets you out of judgment mode.
  2. Acknowledge / empathize with their emotion. By simply acknowledging the frustration or disappointment behind the customer’s words and behaviours, you are saying “I hear you and I understand you.” That is powerful.
  3. Find the truth in their statement. Very few complaints are based on complete fiction. Sometimes, the truth may simply be acknowledging their emotion. 
  4. Apologize. Complaining customers want an apology but don’t necessarily expect one.  A sincere “I’m sorry” is unexpected and appreciated.
  5. Listen mindfully. Focus on the here and now.  Ignore your need to react away. Focus on listening. Remind yourself that listening to what someone else says is not the same as accepting it or agreeing with it. You can respond later, remembering that the better you listen now, the more you understand, and the better equipped you will be to respond productively.
  6. Offer possible solutions or compromises. If you can offer more than one option, do it.  Customers like choice.  Sometimes there is only one potential solution or compromise.  One is better than none.  Don’t be upset if they aren’t loving option B or C (that’s back to letting go of ego.)  Remember, B or C is not their first option. You already failed on delivering that.
  7. Show appreciation. Thank the customer for sharing their complaint. Thanking the complaining customer is really saying “thank you for giving me the opportunity to fix this for you and for us to become even better than we already are.”
  8. Respond, don’t react: Responding demonstrates careful thought and control over your emotions and your words.  Reacting demonstrates an instinctive, impulsive behaviour.

Feelings of defensiveness are instinctive when faced with an unhappy or angry customer.  We want to defend ourselves and our company.  However, if the end goal is to build long-term relationships with our customers, the ability to respond with grace is an essential skill.

What are some things you do to stay calm and professional?

Agreeing to Disagree

tug of war“Why can’t they all just get along?”  I heard this question from a colleague. She is working for a company where the leadership team does not play nice.  They fight among themselves and there are a few “leaders” (I use the word loosely) who have no compunction about publicly bad-mouthing others on their team and in different departments.

As a parent, I very quickly learned that my children needed a team working together on their behalf. That meant, that in some cases, meetings were held behind closed doors, differences of opinion discussed and decisions made. Sometimes, one team leader had to make concessions, sometimes it meant agreeing to disagree but once the doors opened, a consistent, unified message was needed.

This holds true in the workplace as well.  Opinions, insight and suggestions from a broad range of stakeholders are important, but just as important is a consistent, unified message once a decision has been made and everyone, regardless of their original viewpoint, needs to own their role in the organization’s success.

Conflicting ideas and opinions are natural and to be expected when a diverse group of people, with different backgrounds, experiences and personalities work together. Those differences have the potential to create strength and diversity, but in many cases, are instead used as weapons and end up building walls.  When people do not know how, or choose not, to disagree respectfully, ideas stagnate, factions form and opposing camps battle against each other instead of working together to achieve success.

That negative energy is a very real weight felt by everyone in the organization.  Some of the people relying on these managers for guidance, support and direction pick a camp and the battle gets bigger. Other duck and run for cover; they hold on to ideas that could potentially benefit the organization. And others just leave, choosing to work for an organization with less mess and dysfunction.

The variety of ideas and opinions brought to the table when people with different backgrounds, experiences and personalities work together, is a gift.  Treasure it. Respect it.  Nourish it.

(This is a modified repost of a blog originally shared way back in July 2012.  As I held my first team meeting yesterday, I got a better sense as to the range of experience and knowledge around the table. Better yet, I got a sense of how well they work together … that is a gift and one to be nurtured.)

Is the Feedback Sandwich Full of Baloney?

bologna in a vacuum packageQuick show of hands … how many of you were taught to use the sandwich method when delivering negative (or as I like to call it, constructive) feedback?

Many of us have but I must admit, I’m not a fan.  Here’s why:

  • Surrounding the message regarding the behaviour that needs to change or the performance that needs improvement (the meat) in between two slices of praise (the bread), takes the focus away from the change needed.  If the last thing your team member hears is that they are doing well, chances are that is what they will take away from the meeting.
  • The feedback sandwich doesn’t support the intention of the meeting or discussion.  If you expect a change in behaviour or performance, focus on that instead of beating around the bush.  Honest, truthful, respectful feedback inspires trust.
  • It’s a little condescending in that it sends the message “you are not strong enough to hear this”.

The sandwich method may help ease the task of delivering constructive feedback, but it’s not particularly effective.  Instead of using the feedback sandwich, try the following:

  1. Before entering into any discussion, know exactly what behaviour or performance standard is not being met.  How often? When? Avoid using words like always or never.
  2. Focus on one improvement at a time.  Sometimes, those baloney sandwiches were so loaded with meat, it was overwhelming.
  3. Don’t ignore areas of success or excellence. Include them in the natural flow of conversation, instead of just in the beginning or at the end.
  4. Be specific about what change is required and why.  Involve the employee by asking why they think the change is important or who is impacted when a behaviour or standard is not met.  Identify the positive results that will occur when the change is complete or even in process.
  5. Don’t compare one employee to another.  Nobody likes to be told they should be more like so and so.
  6. Don’t use judgmental words like lazy or slow.
  7. Involve the employee in discovering the ‘why’ and ‘how’.  Perhaps more training is required.  If so, how will it be delivered?  A workshop?  Partnering with a workplace coach or another team member?
  8. Develop a plan. How will you assess or monitor change and when will you next meet to review progress?
  9. End the meeting with an expression of confidence in the employee.

When feedback is delivered respectfully and with the intention of helping someone be better at their job, it makes the message easier to hear.  While many people would much rather hear how amazing they are, instead of their shortcomings, most of us also realize we are not perfect and appreciate an honest, sincere offer to help.

What do you think? 


When is Firing not the (first) Answer?

Woman fightingI’m sitting here watching an old CSI episode.  One of the characters, Sara, is lashing out at others on the team, losing her cool during person-of-interest interviews and directly defying the boss.  He wants her fired and is angry when her supervisor, Grissom, refuses to do so.

There are three reasons Grissom refuses to fire her:

  1.  She is damn good at her job and a valuable part of the team.  Her insubordination and bad attitude is a relatively new development and out of character for her.
  2. He allowed her behaviour to continue instead of addressing it immediately.
  3. He took the time to talk to her (finally) and discovered long-buried trauma brought back to the forefront from a previous investigation was the reason for her change in behaviour.

Insubordination, lashing out at others, must be dealt with.  It can’t be ignored or it will worsen and team morale will suffer.  However even direct defiance, if a new behaviour, does not necessarily warrant immediate firing.

Before taking that drastic, final step, leaders will take a good look at themselves to ensure they did not contribute to the problem.  Were they in any way unclear as to expectations?  Did they say or do anything that gave the impression of favoritism?  Did they ask too much from the employee and not provide the support or training to meet the new demands?

Leaders will also take the time to look beyond the behaviour and try to discover a reason for the drastic change.  It’s not that they can or should take on the role of counselor, but when an employee is struggling emotionally or mentally, find a way to help them get past that barrier and back to being a productive, valued member of the team.  Giving an employee the opportunity to resolve their difficulties so their performance and behaviour can improve  is good for team morale, the organization as a whole and is bound to create a strong sense of loyalty.

There are times when the damage is too great or the necessary change in behaviour does not happen.  In that case, it’s time to part ways. If that happens, be sure your documentation is in place, call the employee in, break the news professionally, firmly and compassionately and then move on.  It’s not that firing is never the answer. It’s just not always the first answer.