The phrase “the customer is always right” has been an underlying theme, possibly even a mantra, throughout my working life and for many years before that, I am sure! However, following a discussion with another business owner recently can we absolutely say that this 100% correct all of the time? Sometimes the customer isn’t sure what they are really wanting, what to expect, or may even (and I’m whispering this one!) have made a mistake themselves in asking for something they don’t really want/need or placing their expectations way too high in the first place. I know, unheard of right? I mean as if we were all humans & likely now & again to make some small mistakes… Plus there are, unfortunately, also those who will just never be happy with any outcome – I’m sure we’ve all met a few of these…
I guess the point I’m trying to make is that customer complaints aren’t always what they seem. Receiving a complaint from one of your customers doesn’t always mean that your product isn’t any good or that your service is poor. What it does mean is that these customers need some additional attention, either to let them know that you’ve taken their communication on board and are addressing it or that you are welcoming their feedback & the reasons why their experience wasn’t 100% satisfying. (By the way, have you read my blog on customer satisfaction? If not, here’s a link to it…)
The other issue in this fabulous modern world of technology is that it is so much easier for people to complain and leave negative feedback with all the faceless social media platforms & rating apps available. People who would normally just stick to the usual ‘stiff upper lip’ British acceptance of what they are given, whether it meets the grade or not, can suddenly, without having to have the whole confrontational experience of looking another person in the eye & trying & explain why they’re not happy, vent their feelings & perhaps seek some sort of compensation too.
A few of my friends who run businesses find it especially hard to deal with negative feedback or ratings they might receive and to be honest I can understand why. When you are the business owner & somebody complains about what you’ve put your heart & soul in to or about work you have personally created for them, it really hurts and it’s hard not to take it personally. My advice in cases like this is to take it out of the public eye as soon as you can in a positive way. If you are left negative feedback, state that you are disappointed that they had a less than 100% experience and if they could email you at xxx then you can discuss their experience in more detail & look to make their next visit more satisfactory. By taking it out of the public eye, any potential spatting won’t be seen by anyone else & hopefully you can get to the root cause of the issue, take the feedback if it is fair criticism and offer compensation (like a complimentary ‘something’) for their next visit – fingers crossed they might leave you another raving review that blows the first one out of the water!
And on the don’t take it personally ‘thing’, really don’t! Remember that not everyone is perfect for everyone else. For all the reasons above, people might think they want your solution but when it comes to it it’s just not the right thing. It’s not a slight against you, it just isn’t a fit for them. Take the feedback, use it & move on to your next perfect customer.
It’s not always as easy as that, however, so I’ve pulled together some tips that hopefully will help all businesses no matter what size deal with any dissatisfied customers, take any relevant feedback & increase the impact of their customer service to ensure 100% happy peeps going forward.
- Don’t ignore them – by ignoring them it looks like you don’t care; not great customer service and word definitely gets around!
- Take a deep breath! If someone writes a complaint or posts a poor review and it is a proper slating or untrue, don’t reply straight away. Take some time to think about how you can take it out of the public view & address them individually. By all means, write an email & send it to yourself, write a letter & burn it, shout, scream whatever you need to do but don’t reply immediately when your response is more likely to be emotional rather than rational.
- Respond to them taking on board their comments. Always thank the individual for their feedback – no matter whether it’s good or bad. No-one likes to be ignored so by thanking them you are acknowledging that they had an issue & they have taken time to feed that back to you rather than let the business continue to make the same mistake, in their opinion.
- Take it ‘off-line’. By having long discussions about who said what online will only damage your reputation and is unprofessional. Plus you may not even get a true reason for the complaint if the complainant has an audience.
- Message or email the complainant privately if you can. Or ask them to email you, offering them a suitable ‘olive branch’. This could be a discount on their next order, a free drink when they visit next, or some specific attention if they thought your service was lacking. Whether the complaint is right or not, a happy customer is far better than an unhappy customer.
- Tell them you appreciate their feedback, again right or wrong! Any feedback is useful feedback as even if it is wrong, there may be other people who feel the same as they have a similar level of expectation, or make the same mistake. It might be some wording that your business needs to amend, or it could be a member of staff that requires extra training to satisfy the customers’ needs. Either way, it so much better knowing that not knowing.
- If they visit or buy from you again, ask them to post another review / provide feedback. Again this will tell them that you’re interested in what they have to say, have taken it onboard and hopefully, you’ll get a rave review because of that next time they purchase.
- Use their feedback. Whatever the feedback is that you get, use it! Don’t just read it, pay the customer lip service & do nothing about it. Even if you think the complaint is not correct, check your processes, systems, recipes, front of house to ensure that what this customer thought they experienced isn’t what every customer experiences.
- Be polite and never abusive. Surely this goes without saying, right? Not necessarily. Look on Trip Advisor for instance & you will see a number of ‘managers’ replying to complaints basically saying the customer is wrong. Even if we know they are wrong, act like they are right or it’s never going to be a positive outcome.
- Understand that everyone has their own perception & are entitled to an opinion. That works both ways. Your customer will think they are correct in whatever they say, even if they’ve picked a dish badly, not taken the advice offered at the time or gone ahead with a purchase when advised not to. In their opinion, they will be right and you as a business owner accepting their opinion & thoughts is more likely to get a positive outcome either from a reverse in the opinion by that customer or a better performing business. If you need to explain your opinion to the customer, do it politely and in a professional manner.
So the underlying message here is that all feedback is useful feedback as it draws every business owners’ attention to areas where service may be lacking or the experience isn’t as it should be. It also might actually open up new product/service opportunities to a new audience helping to grow the business. But remember that it’s not the case that the customer is always right, they might just not be your perfect customer… yet…