We began 2011 with a two week trip to the West coast. Two days away from home can be a nightmare if the hotel is less than satisfactory, two weeks can drive you insane. In our 21 years on the road we’ve seen it all, but shabby hotel rooms are easy to fix: we just ask for new rooms. Getting past the warden at the front desk isn’t always as easy. Case in point:
We arrived at our
When it was our turn, the young lady behind the counter asked our names and typed them into her computer. Then she pointed to the z-line packed with people and said in a voice dripping with sarcasm, “You’re in the wrong line. You belong over there with those people.” We told her we were cool and gave her our
The rooms she gave us
Georganne: “We can’t call? We have to come down to the front desk?”
Hotel Associate: “Yes.”
G: “Okaaay. Will someone help us move our stuff to our new rooms?”
HA: “No, we don’t do that. We cannot be expected to pack your things and move them to another room for you. You have to do that yourself.”
Ask Rich what he was thinking right about now and he’ll tell you he was looking for cover. Georganne can take a lot of things, but heavy get-out-of-my-face-you-pain-in-the-shorts-customer sarcasm from a service provider isn’t one of them.
Georganne said, “We do not expect you to pack our things. We asked if you could send a bellman up with the new keys to give us a hand moving our luggage.” The associate opened her mouth to drop the next little toad, but we’d already collected our things and left before she had a chance to answer.
We were right about the rooms. The hotel associate had to dig deep to find the two worst rooms in the entire hotel, but she managed to find them. The first thing we did was call the front desk, explain that we wanted to change rooms in the morning, and ask the (different) associate if he could block two rooms for us. “No problem,” he said. “Consider it done! I’ll have someone call as soon as your new rooms are ready. Will you need assistance moving?” Finally! A breath of fresh air!
The next thing we did was leave a detailed voice mail message for the hotel manager, explaining what had just transpired at his
Every day you will meet customers who are cheesed off at the world – sometimes they direct their frustrations at you. And sometimes, even the best customer service training fails and someone on your team drops the ball. Even when it’s unintentional, you still need to do what you can to make a bad situation better. Here’s how:
1. Let the customer talk!
Maybe the customer has a problem that you can fix in under a minute. Don’t do it! Let the customer vent – sometimes they need to blow off steam.
Ever notice that when you’re unhappy about something you have a tendency to go over it again and again in your mind? Customers do that, too. Many assume that they’re not going to get what they ask for, so they rehearse what they’re going to say over and over and over on the way to your store. By the time he gets there, he’s ready to do battle. If you try to fix the problem without first letting the customer vent, he’s likely to wait for a break in the conversation and begin to tell his story all over again.
Instead of interrupting, offer your hand and introduce yourself. Note the customer’s name and use it – hearing your name tends to have a calming effect. Listen carefully and attentively to the customer’s entire story and don’t interrupt! Stay calm – what you do here sets the tone for the rest of the conversation.
By the way, if the customer is angry it’s always better if the owner or manager handles the situation. Try and get the customer away from other customers. If you have to stay in full view of other shoppers you’d better be prepared to slop some serious customer service sugar to quiet the customer fast. You’re on stage, destined to be a topic of conversation among all who witness what’s going on.
If the customer is abusive say, “I want to help you, but I cannot help you if you continue to speak to me like that.” If the customer calms down you can continue the conversation, but if the customer won’t cooperate, it’s perfectly okay to say, “I really do want to help you, but I need you to calm down. If you do so I can help you now, otherwise we’ll have to do this another time.”
2. Apologize, even if you are not the cause of the problem.
This shows the customer that you are on their side. If you say, “Wow, everyone loves this item. I’ve never heard any complaints about it before.”, the customer hears, “Yeah, right. Ever think about reading the directions?” Instead say, “I’m sorry that you’re upset. Let me see what I can do to make it right.” Or “I’m sorry this happened to you. I understand why you are frustrated.”
3. Ask lots of questions – this will help you decide what to do next.
Asking questions is an indication that you care about the person you’re talking with; they tend to respond more positively. If the customer is upset, ask open-ended questions because they cannot be answered by a simple “yes” or “no”. You might say, “How did you discover this problem?” Open-ended questions require the customer to talk; talking helps the customer to slow down and refocus.
Don’t get ahead of yourself. Stay in the conversation. Smile, make eye contact, and nod as the customer tells his/her story.
4. Ask the customer what she would like you to do for her.
You can’t take it personally – stuff happens. We remember the conversation we overheard between a department store manager and a shopper who had a problem with an expensive blender. The manager wasn’t interested in hearing what the customer had to say, he was too busy reciting the store’s policy of not accepting returns on open boxes. When he took a breath, the customer said the blender was missing a part and she just wanted to exchange it for a new one.
The majority of people who you do business are not unreasonable; they want your help. Ask, “What would you like me to do for you today?” Then tell the customer what you can to help them. Take responsibility: If it’s something you can fix immediately, fix it. If it can’t be taken care of it right away, explain what has to be done, and tell the customer when you’ll get back to her. And make sure that you follow through as promised.
5. Offer a lagniappe.
Here’s where you fix the customer. Offer a lagniappe – a small gift of good will. It doesn’t matter what you offer, it’s the gesture that counts. A $10.00 gift card, a free class, or even an inexpensive gift shows that you really care about the customer. In our case, the front desk manager upgraded our hotel rooms.
6. Follow up!
When you’re not there to personally handle a large or unusual problem it’s always a good idea to follow-up to make sure the customer left the store satisfied. (We received an e-mail from the hotel’s president personally inviting us to stay at her property again.)
Keep a file of what happened, how the situation was handled, and what was done to take care of the customer. This information will be invaluable in future store meetings and training sessions. Our Super Quick Service Response form will help you keep track. Drop us an e-mail for your free copy.
There is no reality, only perception. Your store is what it is perceived to be by your customers and your community, whether you like it or not – those perceptions are built each day on your sales floor, so make sure that every, single person who works for you (on staff or contract worker) understands how you expect them to interact with an unhappy customer.
A Technical Assistance Research Programs Institute (TARP) study found that up to 70 percent of unhappy customers will return to do business with you again, and up to 95 percent will return if you fix the problem quickly. Customers don’t expect you to be perfect, but they do expect your associates to be polite, helpful and accommodating. Taking time to fix things that go wrong is proof that your store is a trusted partner. It’s that trust and your desire to fix the problem and the customer that keeps them coming back for more!
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