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.


The parable of the ugly chair – How to handle a sticky situation without offending anyone.

ugly chairOnce upon a time in a place far away there was a man who made a journey to see his friend in a distant city. The sojourner walked into the pastor’s office and could not help but see the chair off to one side. Behold, it was an ugly chair. It appeared to have suffered much at the hands of many for the upholstery had torn in many places and the seat had sagged in the middle. The arms were worn and apparently the soles of a thousand shoes had scuffed the finish right off the legs.

“Where did you get this treasure?” I asked my host.

“One of our parishioners brought it in and donated it to the church.”

“Some donation,” I suggested. A few more like that and you could have a low end thrift store. Why don’t you just throw it out?”

“I would,” he said. “But they are nice people and they mean well. If I immediately threw it out others would notice and they might not understand. Ugly chairs are worth more than they seem. The principle at play here is more than a chair. It has many layers. First, we must always be grateful for the contributions of others even if they might not be up to our standard or quite meet the needs of the moment. Second, others are watching to see how I handle this. I want to communicate to them that I appreciate everyone and welcome their investment in our organization. Third, everyone is important, even the givers of ugly chairs. Fourth, there is a way to deal with this without offending anyone.”

“And what, I pray you, would that be?”

The wise leader spoke. “First, I welcomed the gift and thanked the giver. Next I found a place of honor for the ugly chair right here in the main office. Indeed, after the passing of a short time, the chair found a new place to reside and it sits there now off to the side. While it had been front and center it is now part of the bigger picture and beginning to blend in by those who frequent this place. You saw it because you are not from here. Others who do frequent here have seen it so often they don’t see it anymore. In another short time the chair, having become part of the background, will find a new home in a less visited office. Then after the passing of more time it will decide it needs solitude and find refuge in a storage room. Eventually the chair will find a new home in another place entirely, perhaps take a journey to the great outdoors to reside. By then, no one will have noticed that the chair is not here. It will have served its purpose over time and we shall not be faulted for having been insensitive and ungrateful.”

“I think I see,” said the traveler. “not every issue, not every event, not every situation needs to be confronted directly nor dealt with immediately. Why create a crisis or an offence when no such crisis exists and an offence can be avoided.”

“Verily,” said the wise leader. “You have learned well.”

And so it was.

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

4 questions to ask when someone brings a problem to you or you can learn a lot from a monkey

monkeys-with signLeaders, especially superlative ones, are achievers. They get things done. They are typically hands-on, roll up the sleeves type of people who attack life and its opportunities head on.

It is that sort of attitude that contributes to success, a tenacious, never say die pursuit of achievement. Typically they are labeled Type A, but I think type B personalities can be just as tenacious and relentless. They are just quieter about it.

But, this attitude and inclination can get us into trouble. We tend to pick up too many things, lock in to too many pursuits, and want to fix every issue. If we’re not careful, we will be guilty of meddling or compromised in our ability to develop the skills and competence of others because we do things they should be doing.

Doubtless, subordinates and associates will bring problems to you. Indeed, the competence to solve problems is imperative for superlative leaders, but I’ll write more about that next week. Right now I want to address this topic as a counselor.

Some of you know that I donate several days a month to the local SCORE* chapter, a group of business men and women who mentor business owners or those who would like to be business owners. Of the many competencies found in our mentors, a universal one is we never take up a problem if it could and should be handled by the person we are mentoring.  You do not develop people by doing for them what they must do for themselves.

Imagine, if you will, that your workplace is a jungle. Indeed it may seem like one at times. Chaos, wild animals, and uncivilized behavior may occasionally be what you see most but usually things function naturally. People go about their business and the work gets done.

To carry the analogy further, consider that each task, each responsibility, each problem is a monkey. Every person who works in the jungle has monkeys to take care of and usually they do.

But when monkeys become troublesome and unruly, something happens that directly affects you.

However, monkeys climb. They climb up the tree. And where is your desk (or main workplace)? That’s right. You sit in the higher reaches of the jungle.

Troublesome monkeys are, well, troublesome. It is not unusual that monkey-tenders will hand off bothersome monkeys if they can. So the monkey may find itself on your desk or someone may bring it to you.

JUNGLE SURVIVAL RULE #1 – Give monkeys back.

Your job is to develop and equip others. That’s your monkey and it’s a big one. You are NOT the keeper of everyone else’s monkey. So don’t accept a problem just because someone hands it to you. Here are 4 questions to ask of the monkey-tender:

1. What is the problem? You want to know the nature of the problem itself. Almost always a subordinate or an associate will tell you the effects not the cause. You want to be able to identify the cause(s) and cannot be content with the effects only. Here’s the important part, you want to train the subordinate or associate to discover the cause. Do not treat effects only and do not allow those you lead to stop at effects. If you do the effects will surely and inevitably come around again. So, ask and keep probing until you get the answer and get the monkey-tender to be able to identify the problem and its cause(s).

2. What have you done about it? You want to know why the monkey is troubled, sick, or dying, and you want to know what has been done already. The answer will reveal much. You save time and eliminate guessing. You also begin to see the problem-solving skills (or lack thereof) of your co-workers.

3. What do you want me to do about? This sounds a little snarky but I don’t mean it that way. I am not suggesting you should answer sharply harshly or with a condescending manner. I do mean you should probe to find out what they want from you. A solution? Just to gossip? A reward for being an informant? Help? Advice? Or what?

4. What are your expectations in coming to see me at this time? While this may sound almost like question #3, it isn’t. A powerful component in the problem-solving process is attitude. The answer to this question reveals the level of hope, the degree of frustration, and/or the frame of mind, positive or negative. It begins to set the tone for what you have to do next?

And what is that, you ask?

Well, you’ll have to wait until Monday to find out. I gotta go.  There’s a monkey on my desk and he needs more bananas.


*SCORE is not for retired people only. A large number of volunteers are young business owners who just want to help out other business owners. You could be a mentor too. Check it out at www.score.org