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Calming Upset Customers: Part 2

In continuing our discussion of Calming Upset Customers, this article includes insights from two Tuchman Advisory Group members.

Anni Lundy, Director ~ Memories Gown Preservation ~ Houston, TX said,

“We get our fair share of complaints on a weekly basis coming through our customer-service department. We produce a high volume and our customers are brides. The standard of perfection the American bride holds regarding her wedding gown is far beyond her favorite sweater. Most are minor fixes, but the level of frustration and tears that comes through the phone on a scale of 1-10 is an 11, my team reports.”

Ann continues with six techniques she and her staff employ:

  1. “Listen, empathize, and let them vent. Accept the fact that a bride can be hysterical or downright mean. At this point in her life, this garment is her most important possession. Her attachment is to the wedding day, her family and the potential of the future. Whether or not you agree about her heightened reaction is irrelevant.”

  2. “Apologize sincerely. The standard ‘sorry, ma’am’ in worker-at-the-DMV voice makes me cringe. When you apologize, make it genuine. ‘I sincerely apologize.’ ‘I am truly sorry to hear that.’ These types of apologies help calm the customer.”

  3. “Offer a solution. Tell the bride you personally are going to see this issue to the end. If you don’t have a solution, find a middle ground. If that doesn’t work, say you will present this problem to your boss and see what can be done. It will provide time to cool off and for you to talk to your manager or customer-service teammates to find a way to make it right.”

  4. “Get creative. Getting creative doesn’t just benefit the customer; it also is the best way my team saves us from claims or expenses. I had a bride who had a gown with a very thin crystal feather that was sewn to the lapel. During cleaning it broke in half beyond repair. It wasn’t just a brooch; it was part of the original gown, which was over three years old. I called the boutique that sold it and they didn’t have it. There was no way I was going to replace a $5,000 gown because of one broken embellishment! I scoured the Internet, found a near perfect match on for $6.00, and sent the bride a picture. She agreed to the replacement. I returned the broken piece in a separate envelope and suggested that if she someday has a daughter, she could make a headpiece for her newborn pictures. She replied, that she loved the idea and was glad this happened! If the customers know you are doing everything you can to fix the problem, they are more forgiving.”

  5. “Document everything. Nothing is more frustrating than having to repeatedly recount your story. It makes the customer angrier and sometimes the story grows more grandiose with each re-telling. Every customer issue should have notes attached. My team writes a synopsis including notes like ‘she is very particular about her veil’ or ‘she will swear and scream at you.’ That way, when the issue gets to another team member, they know the situation.”

  6. “It’s not about you. Sometimes employees will match the anger or attitude of the customer. The purpose of customer service is to solve a problem. I coach my team not to take anything personally. Granted, staff will have a moment of “losing it” when they are met with a person who is being outrageous. When they feel that moment coming, my team knows to put the customer on a brief phone hold, calm down, and start again. In the world of Yelp and Facebook, employees who have a chip on their shoulder and take customer complaints as a personal affront will cost you more than the actual claim.”

Brett Allen, Owner ~ Medlin-Davis Cleaners in Raleigh, NC offered, “Our general procedures when we experience a customer-service complaint go as follows. When a customer has a negative customer-service experience, the incident is passed to the store manager, customer-service manager or me. Our first step is to de-escalate the situation. The most important part is to get back to the customer in a timely manner. Once they realize that we take the incident seriously and are fully invested in their complaint, the situation normally de-escalates and becomes easier to resolve. Our goal is to get a full incident report from the customer. In our company, customer-service is very important and we will investigate and take appropriate action. Depending on the situation, we offer a cleaning refund, and to demonstrate going above and beyond, we give the customer a store credit. We thank the customer for letting us know about the incident. Their report gives us the chance to take appropriate action and ensure it doesn’t happen again. In 90% of cases this will satisfy the customer enough to continue using our services. Our training of Customer-Service Representatives (CSR) is an ongoing process. We want to make certain that the CSR will receive an appropriate reprimand and/or training, normally involving investigating the incident and using it to train the CSR how to handle these situations. Normally they learn from these incidents and there is no reccurrence. If there continue to be problems with a CSR, they will be let go.”

Brett continued with the following text of a recent negative review on Yelp.

“I walked in and waited a few minutes. Then I called out ‘hello, hello!’ and waited. I called out again and waited. Then a bell rings; a minute later a young gal comes out of the back, goes to the side door which, until that moment I didn't know existed. She assists the customer at that door, walks up to the front where I've been standing for over ten minutes -- not a word! Not ‘I'll be with you in a minute’ or ‘I'm sorry, I didn't see you there’. NOTHING. I looked at her in disbelief and

asked her, ‘I should use that door?’ She rang up her customer, turned on her heel without a word and left me standing there. Then a blond woman comes out of the back. She walks up to the front, takes my slip, and gets my order. I gave her my credit card and she walks into the back without a word. She returns with my card and receipt which was a shocking $40 for five shirts. To her credit, she explained the charges to me, which is how I discovered that the staff there actually can speak. Needless to say, that was my first and last order at your store. If you gave me FREE dry-cleaning for a year I wouldn't come back. We just moved here last week and live right down the street, but I will NEVER be back.”

Brett’s response:

“Thank you for taking the time to send in this complaint. We spend much time and effort in training our staff in customer service. I cannot believe how badly we failed in this instance. A customer is supposed to be greeted or acknowledged within 15 seconds of entering our store. “Welcome to the neighborhood”. Please know that I am mortified that this is the treatment you received. I have already spoken with them and they claim they did not hear the door. That does not explain why there was no acknowledgement or greeting when they saw you standing there. I can only say it was a momentary lapse in judgment. They were distracted with another customer. There is no excuse for this behavior. I have reprimanded both of them and given them a warning. I will use a secret shopper to ensure this doesn’t happen again. Customer satisfaction is important to me and I take these issues seriously. I will work to make sure this does not happen again. I feel terrible that you had this experience and would like to make it up to you. I know you said that you would not use our service again. However, I have added a $50.00 credit to your account as a small token of apology. We do offer a free pick-up and delivery service in your neighborhood that I am certain you would enjoy using. Again, I am sorry for your experience.”

The lesson we take away is that it is imperative that good customer service guidelines be in place at your company. The following are a few starter ideas:

  • Managers and owners are the role models

  • Solicit customer feedback

  • Use a mystery shopping service

  • Send follow-up emails to their bad experience

  • Reward staff for good customer-service behavior

  • Don't speak negatively about customers

  • Develop a company customer-service policy and train your employees in it!

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