Sunday, July 20, 2008

When a customer complains

I've written previously about how I don't believe a business intends to provide poor customer service. They don't start off the day with a goal of loosing customers or pushing them away. But unfortunately poor service is all too prevalent.

As a business owner I cherish feedback from my customers. I feel fortunate when I get it because I know that the customer did not have to share their feelings with me. Why then do I hesitate to share my experiences with other business owners or managers when I know how valuable the feedback can be?

At times the complaint is meant to illicit an immediate response - as in, "Waiter, there is a fly in my soup." I'm asking for an immediate response to my problem. But not all problems with service are as obvious to see and easy to fix like a fly in the soup.

I believe that we are a polite society for the most part and in many cases people tend to avoid conflict. Reporting poor service to the business owner or manager can be uncomfortable. If the person in the business is receptive to hearing about the problem then we can at least be satisfied that someone heard what we had to say and may act on the feedback for the better. When the person who receives the feedback or complaint is either not engaged or appears disinterested and worse yet is defensive, it discourages us from going out our way in the future to share again.

I heard someone say once that when a customer complains they are looking for an excuse to continue to do business with you. That comment has stuck with me since the day I heard it. I realize that my choice to share my experience with a business owner is my way of gauging their responsiveness to my needs. I don't expect them to jump up and down for me or be perfect in their service delivery, I know mistakes will be made. What I'm gauging is whether or not they care about what I'm telling them. I'm determining if they are aware of the problem and if they accept this as normal or if they want to make changes.

I know that we have lost customers who never bothered to tell us the reasons we lost their business. Others have commented on frustrations they experienced and we lost them because I failed to respond in a manner they believed to be acceptable. The old saying that only 10% of your customers will complain if they have a problem may be true. Regardless of the percentage - I wish more customers would tell us when something is wrong or not to their liking.

Ever sit at a restaurant and the manager comes by and asks, "Hello. Everything okay with your dinner this evening?" This question elicits the standard response, "Yes, everything is just fine thank you."

If the manager really wanted to know your thoughts he might say, "Good evening. I'm sorry to interrupt. I hope you are enjoying your dinners. May I ask, is there anything we could have done this evening to have improved your experience?" Now this question opens dialogue and invites the customer to offer a suggestion or constructive feedback without feeling as if they are complaining. The customer is at ease and is more likely to be honest.

We began asking our customers this very question and I am thankful we did. I appreciate the suggestions and feedback - it provides us with the information we need so we can make your experience with Lawn Lad a more positive one.

Thank you for caring and taking the time to give us feedback on your experience.

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