“Let me tell you what this $#@! just said.”
He was telling me about a customer who was complaining. The complaint, according to the business owner, was unfounded and unfair.
I listened. He explained – from his point of view – the circumstances leading up to the complaint. He was fuming about it.
As he read the email from the customer he said, “Here, I’m sending it to you right now.”
I got it while we were still on the phone. Now, I’m reading along as he’s continuing his tale. He’s as angry as I’ve ever heard him. It’s compounded, I suspect, because he’s got two major projects he’s trying to complete and this interruption was unexpected. Life can be pleasant like that…sometimes!
These are common conversations for me as I try to help business owners solve problems. They lament how inconsiderate customers are. Irritated that customers are abusive, mean and too demanding. Anybody who serves customers is subject to the temptation.
Now back to the conversation.
I said, “It appears to me you’ve stepped in it.”
“What?” he said.
“It looks to me like you’ve messed up and now you’re mad about it,” I replied.
“Are you kidding me?” he barked.
“Wait a minute,” I continued. “Let’s step back and look at this a bit more closely.”
We then walked through the real events leading up to what this owner perceived as a “nasty” email. Turns out the email really wasn’t that nasty. Nor was it mean-spirited. The email was an expression of extreme, ongoing frustration. After 10 minutes of walking through the events the owner paused and said, “I’m such an idiot.”
“No,” I said. “You’re just stuck inside your business with your problems, worries and fears. Meanwhile, your customer is stuck with his own worries, frustrations, problems and fears. He’s worried you’re not going to complete this deal on time and that he’ll have egg on his face. Your job right now is to call him – not email him – and reassure him that you understand how he’s feeling. Apologize for whatever you must and guarantee him he’ll be happy.”
For over 35 years I’ve given that same advice because it’s in my fabric. Customer service is a major priority for me. Nothing has mattered more. Nothing.
Some years ago, while leading a retail company I had a sign constructed and hung in the store that simply said,
“Extraordinary Service. No Excuses!”
It caused near mutiny among the troop who wrongfully thought that I was setting them up for a no-win situation.
“How can we possibly live up to that?” they objected.
I explained it to them. I’ll explain it to you in today’s show. This is the first in a series on customer service. We’ll start with what I believe is foundational to superior customer service. Communication.
P.S. Read this post by Ron Burley. It appeared a few hours after I recorded this episode. Then, a few hours later…I noticed this post by Mikal E. Belicove, entitled “What a Trip to LAX Taught Me About Customer Service.” Proving once again that great minds do indeed think alike, and often at the same time (well, at least on the same day).