Watch Out for Customers!

  • Breaking News: Customer tries to get freebie AGAIN!vintage newsboy
  • This just in: Reports say number of cranky customers on the rise.
  • Business Bulletin: Customers are clueless.
  • In the News:  Customers the highest cause of stress in service professionals.

As humans, we tend to focus on the ‘bad stuff and forget about the good stuff or the normal stuff.  When an anomaly happens, it makes the headlines. Big, bold letters and dramatic language sell papers, encourage clicks and create huddles around water coolers.  Just think of all the headlines and intense media coverage last month regarding the safety of air travel.  The loss of life is tragic.  I cannot begin to imagine the depths of pain and suffering felt around the globe because of that. Too often though, that’s where we get stuck. We forget about the millions of people who got on a plane and arrived safely at their final destination.

I see this same perspective in the service industry.  Sharing stories about unreasonable, cranky customers is common.  Some people go on and on about the cranky, rude, or “out to get a freebie” customer. After a while, they start to perceive all customers as cranky, rude and out-to-get something.  Their attitude towards customers tends to bring on more stress than the actual customer.

Yes some customers will lie to get freebies from you. Some are crankier than others.  As for clueless – the customer isn’t the expert. They’re not supposed to be, so don’t expect them to be.

Here’s an idea.  Instead of sharing stories about the “bad’ customers, share stories about the good to great ones. Count how many good to great customers you serve in a day instead of how many ‘bad’ customers.  Focus on the many positive customer interactions, instead of on the small percentage of cranky, rude and out-to-get something people.  You’ll be happier, and when you’re happier, your customers are happier.

Do this on a regular basis and in no time, you’ll be watching for the customer instead of watching out for the customer.


It’s Not Personal!

Have you ever received a call from an over-zealous telephone sales person; the one who simply refuses to accept your “I’m not interested” response to their sales pitch?  I had one who implied that my lack of interest clearly demonstrated a lack of intelligence and understanding as to the value his product could provide.  The implied insult did nothing except bring the call to a very abrupt end!

That is an extreme example of someone who believed I needed what he had to offer and wouldn’t take no for an answer. But it does bring to mind a question some service professionals have, “How do I respond when a suggestion I make is not acted on?”  The important thing to remember is … don’t take it personally.

I have been working with a company on some marketing ideas for my business.  Many ideas and suggestions were presented.  Some I liked. Some I didn’t. I was a little taken aback at the defensive response I received when I made the decision not to implement some of the proposed activities. While those tactics may work for some companies, some businesses, I did not feel they were a fit for me or my business. They did not reflect how I interacted with my customers or potential customers.  That didn’t make the suggestions wrong; that just made them wrong for me.

In the service industry, it is our job to provide suggestions.  The more time we spend in a role, the better we become at assessing our customers and providing suggestions we believe will be of benefit to them.  In the end though, it is the customer’s choice to accept our suggestions or not.

If customer doesn’t take you up on your suggestions, it is not a reflection on your knowledge or your expertise. Even when you “know” they made the wrong choice, don’t justify your recommendations or continue to push the passed on option.  Implying the customer made the wrong choice doesn’t build the type of relationship that will bring them back again.   Instead be gracious. Focus on the benefits their choice offers and provide the type of service that will bring them back again.

Get Off Your High Horse

In the many customer service workshops I facilitate, I’ve discovered that the human tendency to judge others based on personal moral standards or guidelines is by far the biggest hurdle in a person’s ability to provide great service.

Customer profiling is not limited to policing and security.  A customer that doesn’t look quite right, whose clothes and mannerisms don’t match a preconceived notion of what a customer should look like, very often receive lower grade service. They may not be treated with outright rudeness (although that does happen) but the smile, the offers to help and quality checks are not done as quickly or with as much enthusiasm.

Moral judgments and biases really come into play when a customer is unhappy about a policy or a procedure.  The tendency to blame customers for their dissatisfaction or unhappiness is common.

  • “Why should I care if a customer is unhappy because he has to go outside to smoke? Smoking is a disgusting habit. He should just quit and then his problem is solved.”
  • “If she’d read the information, she’d have seen there was a fee for that.”
  • “He’s just like all the others; a scammer out to get something for free.”
  • “Wow, I can’t believe how rude she was.  What a b*#@h!”
  • “She was late.  If she’d been here on time, she wouldn’t have had to wait as long.”
  • “Everyone knows hotel check-in times are not that early.  Why is she so mad because she can’t get into her room early?”

Customers have foibles, bad habits, idiosyncrasies. They are just like us, imperfect.   Excellent service providers have learned to get off their high horse, their pedestal of moral judgment and insider information.  Instead, they join the customer at ground level to look at the situation from his or her point of view; they try to find common ground.  Excellent service providers may not always agree, but they are never disagreeable.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.  Please feel free to share. 


How to Respond to Customer Complaints

When faced with an unhappy or angry customer, your response to that situation has the potential to defuse it or make it worse.

If handled incorrectly, a disappointed customer may turn into an angry customer.  If handled incorrectly, a disappointed customer may decide you don’t care about them and resolve never to come back to your business.  Even worse, that customer may decide to tell their family, their friends and their colleagues to NEVER do business with you either.  They may log into Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms to spread the message, which means even more people will get a negative impression about your business.

Whenever possible, try to resolve the situation BEFORE the customer walks out the door. That means listening and watching for clues of customer dissatisfaction.  A lot of customers will tell you everything is fine even when it’s not. Some may believe it’s not worth their time to lodge a complaint or perhaps they don’t believe anything will be done anyway. It’s up to you and your service team to find out about any issues or service concerns and address them quickly. The LEAPT strategy may help

Listen:  It’s not easy to listen to a customer complaint. Some customers are rude, some can’t seem to get to the point, and very often you have other things you need to deal with.  Put all of that aside and truly listen to what the customer is telling you.  Give them some time to get their anger and frustration out. Watch your emotions. Focus on the specifics of their complaint, not their personality or their delivery method.  Ask questions, nod, take notes.

Empathize:  Be sure your customer feels confident that you are understanding their concern. Ask yourself “How would I feel if this happened to me?” Don’t think about how you would act if it did happen to you, as that quickly leads to judging actions rather than focusing on the problem and the solution.

Apologize:  If you or someone on your team messed up, apologize.  If you had no control over the situation, apologize anyway.  An apology is not always an admission of guilt.  It is genuine regret that your customer’s expectations were not met.

Partner:  This step means working with the customer to come up with the remedy together.  Some people wait to deal with any issue until they have all the facts and potential solutions in place before interacting with the customer. Big mistake!  You’re just giving them time to get angrier and angrier. Very often, if listen, empathize and apologize were taken care of immediately and with sincerity, the resolution has already been found.  What most customers want is to be listened to, to have their disappointment acknowledged and to receive an apology.  Yes, some will want discounts, coupons, a free meal or a free stay and that’s ok.  A free meal, a coupon or a free stay costs your business a lot less than negative messaging.

Thank:  Thank the customer for sharing their disappointment with you. Instead of just leaving, they gave you an opportunity to fix it.  Instead of telling their family, friends and colleagues about their negative experience, they told you. Their complaint gave you the chance to make things right for this customer and perhaps other customers as well.

We need to know when a customer is unhappy and we need to take steps to address the problem immediately.  Customers are our bread and butter. They give us a reason to get up every day and go to work. Without customers, there is no work.

What are some things you do when a customer voices a complaint?

Would You Want to Work for You?

The discussion among colleagues came up again recently.  Why are so many employees disengaged? Where is the enthusiasm, the willingness to go the extra mile?

There is, of course, no one answer to that question.  Based on examples shared by participants in some of my workshops, sometimes the answer is pretty obvious. 

One participant works as a part-time hostess at a restaurant.  She thought she was doing a good job.  She took it upon herself to let the kitchen know when a large group came in. She helped the servers by bussing tables. She let the servers know when she’d seated someone in their section instead of letting them find out for themselves next time they walked by. 

But when she asked for more shifts, her manager told her that she wasn’t going the extra mile.  She told the manager everything she was doing and then asked “What is it that I haven’t been doing?’  He told her she wasn’t taking her turn sweeping the floor at the entrance.   

Why did he wait for her to come and ask what she was doing wrong, instead of letting her know that she was forgetting one part of her job?   Why didn’t he recognize her for the things she was doing well?

Another person shared that his supervisor was running his little ship with threats and intimidation (my words, not his). The only time a person was called into his office was if something had been done wrong, and instead of dealing with concerns as they arose, the boss created lists.  When the list was long enough, the guilty party would be hauled in.  There was no discussion as to why errors were being made and how they could be fixed.  The meeting was a dressing down and an ultimatum to change or else was given.

 With supervisors and managers like these around, the answer to low employee engagement is pretty obvious. But “bad bosses” aren’t always unfair, mean and inconsistent. 

Some bosses are nice.  They want to help their team as much as possible.  But when nice means letting things slide or giving too many chances to improve, the employees who are working hard, to standard or higher, may decide they don’t need to work as hard.  When bosses help too much, they take away the opportunity for personal buy-in. 

So what are some ways to improve employee engagement?

  1. Be consistent.  Performance standards apply to everyone, all the time, not just some of the people, some of the time. (That includes you!)
  2. Be a cheerleader. Celebrate successes, both team and individual.
  3. Provide feedback, both positive and constructive and do it on a timely basis.  Immediately is best, but if that is not possible, as close to the time the action took place as possible.
  4. Don’t have all the answers.  Allow your team members to help solve challenges and create plans.
  5. Be trustworthy.  Say what you mean and mean what you say. Don’t make false promises or idle threats. 

These are just five suggestions. What do you do to create the culture where employee engagement can flourish?