6 things you should NOT do when a customer complains

roach letterIn my last article I recounted the story of Mike (you can read the entire story here). Assuming you are the general manager of the store in which Mike’s story unfolded, we need to discuss what you would and should do.

But first, let’s look at what you should NOT do.

  1. You should NOT attribute Mike’s complaint to the odd and unusual circumstance. It is all too easy to simply disregard his complaint as being the result of something out of the ordinary. If it hasn’t happened before it will almost certainly happen again. Instead, take Mike seriously and respond accordingly.
  2. You should NOT blame the complainer. We’ve been in business long enough to know that not every complaint is valid and not every customer can be satisfied. But reality begins with the perceptions of others hot you. In fact, the most ineffective leaders always demonstrate a debilitating flaw, the belief that everything would be just fine if they saw things as they see them. It simply is imperative that effective leaders never blame the complainer for his or her perceptions because it is those perceptions that have defined and framed the conversation.
  3. You should NOT ignore it. Every person involved – the sales staff in the department Mike visited, the assistant manager he spoke with, and you, all need to know a complaint has been registered and that you do not indent to simply ignore it. Something happened somewhere and it needs to be fixed. It will not get better by itself.
  4. You should NOT follow up with a roach letter. For those outside the US, a “roach letter” might seem a puzzling term, but it stems from a complaint letter that an airline passenger sent to the headquarters of the airline following a flight he made on one of their planes. It seems that a passenger awakened from a nap to find a cockroach crawling down his cheek. Incensed, the passenger wrote a letter of complaint and received a prompt response. Unfortunately, inside the envelope the passenger found a note from someone in the airline’s customer service department that read, “Send this jerk the roach letter.” Roach letters fix nothing, reveal a terrible attitude, and will always ring insincere.
  5. You should not assume your employees will respond badly. Most sales people really do not like to miss out on sales and the incidence with Mike might have been a simple oversight or the result of being too task-oriented rather than people-(customer) oriented. One manager in a big box store ordered one of her top salesmen to stop processing contracts and start putting away stock. This is not unusual when there are lots of things to do but it is a pathetic waste of talent and expertise to divert the completion of sales (profit) toward housekeeping (overhead). Use your talent where they produce the most profit. Indeed, experience shows us that sales people resent being taken away from duties on the floor like meeting customers, selling products, closing on sales to do mundane tasks. If you workplace is structured by paying commissions it gets more imperative to allow the power of incentive to work. Let your sales people sell.

In the next post, we’ll discuss what you should do.

Mike has filed a complaint. What would you do?

question marksHere’s the situation:

You are the general manager of a store that has three departments. Your store is one of more than a dozen similar sites the company owns and operates. You receive a call from the customer service department at the main corporate office.

A customer has called to complain about something that happened at your store. The customer, we’ll call him Mike, had visited there expecting to purchase a product. Entering the department where the product was located, he waited to place an order.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited.

According to the customer service rep, the would-be buyer said he waited 19 minutes in all. During that time, one sales rep that had been busy with another customer finished what he was doing with them and then simply left. The other sales rep walked in to the department and immediately began chatting with another company employee. Then the rep went behind the desk and began clicking on a computer. Both the first rep and the second had made eye contact with Mike but neither acknowledged his presence or walked the half-dozen steps over to where he shopped to assist.

Mike gave up. On his way out of the store, he encountered a department manager and recounted what had just happened to him. When Mike finished, the department manager said only one thing, “Okay.”

Mike made his purchase somewhere else.

Now, let’s say that you’re the general manager of that store and you just received the call from corporate customer service, what do you do?

Send your answer to Jack@thepracticalleader.com or leave it as a comment below.

We’ll discuss the solution next week.

 

Lessons in leadership and excellence from the managers of Parrot Key

 

parrot_key_grill_fortmyersbeach-0106Christmas in southwest Florida is the beginning of tourist season. While much of the rest of the country shovels snow, we enjoy moderate temperatures and sunny skies. On Friday evening, my wife and I decided to try out Parrot Key, an upper scale seafood eatery in a tropical Caribbean theme down at the beach..

At our table by the window we overlooked the marina and made our selection. Since we’d not been there before, and since we were not in any hurry, we took our time. The server came back to our table a few times, answered whatever questions we had, and made us feel like were her only customers.

The food was marvelous, the service attentive and proactive, and the setting lovely. Parrot Key is not a short drive from our house, but we will go back. As we finished the meal, we asked to see the manager. When the manager arrived a few minutes later, we congratulated her on a finely run restaurant and on the skill and competence of the server.

Since then I’ve thought about the experience and identified these lessons in leadership that I believe you will find enlightening, reassuring, and helpful.

  1. Experiences that turn out well for our customers is not accidental. It is the result of hiring the right people, careful training, detail-oriented management, and follow-through. It is obvious at Parrot Key that they do all four and do them well. I’ve been in a lot of beach joints in my life, love seafood and love the sea, but so many beach joints trade on their locale and on the fast turnover of a steady stream of tourists. Not many treat their customers like they needed them to come back. Parrot Key does.
  2. Exceptional service comes from people who can anticipate what is going to be needed and then make sure they supply it. In this case, Parrot key’s managers have done two things well. They have selected the right personnel who possess that oh-so-rare quality of foresight made manifest by a respect for the people they work for. I taught my children a secret when they began to enter the workforce. That secret is that they need to be able to intuit the anxiety index of their boss and make sure they never provoke it. Leaders need to do the same for those who work for them – anticipate what their employees will need, discern what makes them anxious, and do what we must to keep things calm. This means that the people who work with us look to us for certain things. We can do a great deal to even out the highs and lows of the job by thinking ahead. The Parrot Key people have obviously done that.
  3. Developing capable people means we as trainers, leaders, and managers know what those we train are going to need to know and when they are going to need to know it. We would like to hire people who already know that but hardly anyone does nor will they. Indeed, the essence of effective leadership is in the success e have in developing capable people under us. When we spoke with Parrot Key’s manager and complimented her on the service given us the manager said that they had made a good choice. Indeed, they had. I don’t know what method they use to select people but it works well. Hiring people is always a risk but it need not be a shot in the dark. Effective leaders develop methods of hiring, hone their people-picking skills over time, and learn to make good choices. Then, we make sure that the essentials are covered based on the requirements of the job and the values of the company. Effective restaurant managers understand that they are doing more than selling food. They understand that they are providing a certain dining experience that must meet the expectations of customers and satisfy the implied and expressed specifications of the company. Fast-food people must take and fulfill orders quickly. Dining establishments like Parrot Key have a different nature.
  4. It’s trite, but you only get one chance to make a first impression. Too many times we tend to look at averages. We tend to measure our business over a series of experiences. I’ll go back to Parrot Key, I’ve not been back to the others and don’t intend to. I visited a new car dealership nearby during one of the sales campaigns and was accosted, indeed almost assaulted by a sales person who came on so strongly that I had to fight him off. I have never been back, and were he the only car dealer in Florida, I would walk to Georgia to buy a car. We need to be committed to providing a stellar experience the very first time. Parrot Key made a good one.
  5. It is never enough to do one thing very well. We need to do many things better than our competitors. Success and excellence is the result of little touches, small steps that outpace others. That sets us apart and, more importantly, keeps us ahead.

Self-examination is sometimes difficult. So, why not consider an unrelated setting, like a Parrot Key? The principles that make for exceptional business are universal. You can make the application to your peculiar setting.

 

Leadership Challenge #1 – the innocently rude sales clerk

 

customer serviceRemember the challenge from Monday? Here it is. My response is below.

You are the owner/manager of a retail department store. Your store is busy so high sales volume also means a lot of returns.  One of the new employees is tasked with handling the checkout register and for restocking items as they are returned when checkout traffic permits. The employee has gone through the company’s orientation and training but has been working the floor only for a few weeks.

You are working the floor, walking the many departments to watch for problems, help where needed, and answering questions. You see a customer browsing the rack of trousers in the men’s wear department. The customer has focused in on one garment and has pushed surrounding garments aside so he can look more closely.

The new employee approaches with an arm load of clothes to restock. She approaches the customer looking at trousers and says, “Excuse me.” Then without waiting for a response from the customer, she pushes the trousers he was looking at back together, spreads others apart, inserts the ones she is carrying, and walks off.

You see the customer’s look of surprise. As the employee walks away, the customer turns and leaves too without selecting a garment for purchase or even looking further.

What would you do?

Here’s what I would do?

  1. Try to find the customer before he leaves the store and apologize. Do not justify the employee’s behavior. Do not try to explain. Just apologize and offer a 10% off compensation. This addresses the effects of what happened immediately.
  2. Find the employee and speak with her. Do not wait until next week or even think about trying to address this in a public meeting. Give her the benefit of the doubt. It is unlikely she considered what she did as rude. She was probably just trying to be efficient and conscientious. She does double duty on the floor and at the cashier’s counter so she was likely trying to get through floor duty so she could get back to the counter. Guide the conversation but do not reprove, at least not at this stage. If you take the time to inform and train now, and see her do it again later, you can be sterner then. But now, explain what happened and why the customer felt the way they did. Then explain what should be done when stocking or restocking merchandise.
  3. Review your training and orientation curriculum. Make sure that it covers situations like this. Do not assume that employees will understand. Some will. Most won’t. They aren’t naturally rude or thoughtless, well most aren’t anyway, but they can be blind to the bigger picture. Change whatever might need to be changed. Add whatever might need to be added to address the finer points of customer relations and service on the sales floor.

 

Leadership Challenge #1 – The Customer Service Fail

customer serviceYou are the owner/manager of a retail department store. Your store is busy so high sales volume also means a lot of returns. One of the new employees is tasked with handling the checkout register and for restocking items as they are returned when checkout traffic permits. The employee has gone through the company’s orientation and training but has been working the floor only for a few weeks.

You are working the floor, walking the many departments to watch for problems, help where needed, and answering questions. You see a customer browsing the rack of trousers in the men’s wear department. The customer has focused in on one garment and has pushed surrounding garments aside so he can look more closely.

The new employee approaches with an arm load of clothes to restock. She approaches the customer looking at trousers and says, “Excuse me.” Then without waiting for a response from the customer, she pushes the trousers he was looking at back together, spreads others apart, inserts the ones she is carrying, and walks off.

You see the customer’s look of surprise. As the employee walks away, the customer turns and leaves too without selecting a garment for purchase or even looking further.

What would you do? And most importantly, Why?

I will answer this on Thursday and I want to hear from you. I’ll select from the answers I receive and post them along with mine. This is NOT a test so there are no right or wrong answers. It is an exercise in leadership training and discussion is the name of the game. Send your answers to me at Jack@ThePracticalLeader.com