Dear Customer: You’re Wrong, We’re Right

Time for companies to get right on customer-retention communication training

Have you complained to a product or service provider lately only to receive a lecture rather than an apology?

Seems there’s an unfortunate trend where more companies are lecturing customers as to why we’re being unreasonable in expecting basic service standards – rather than apologizing for not meeting them. Here are a couple of examples.

After researching carpet cleaners online, I hired a company called (ironically) Reliable, which had great reviews. Unfortunately, after the carpets dried there were brown water stains on the carpeted stairs. I called the company and was told the technicians would return the following week to fix the problem. When they didn’t return, I left a low rating for the company on the online review site. The owner subsequently called but rather than asking how he could resolve the issue to my satisfaction, instead lectured me as to how a low rating negatively impacts his business. Obviously I won’t hire the company again, nor recommend it to anyone – a lost customer development opportunity.

Not long after, I was returning home from Cancun on a WestJet flight. Turbulence started soon after takeoff. The seatbelt signs came on and there was an announcement to “refrain from using the washrooms.” The turbulence continued for the next 2 1/2 hours while seniors clutched seatbacks enroute to desperately needed washroom visits and wide-eyed parents rushed little ones down the aisle.

I stopped one of the flight attendants and asked her why the flight crew couldn’t make an announcement informing us how long the turbulence might last and how passengers could safely make their way to the washrooms.  While I expected a “good idea!” in response, instead I received an irate lecture on how there was “NO WAY the flight crew can know how long turbulence might last” and “we’ve already told passengers to refrain from using the washrooms.” She walked away, irritated that I would be so demanding.

Way to keep passengers informed and safe! The turbulence, and the seatbelt signs, continued for another hour. As we landed, an attendant made an announcement thanking us for choosing WestJet.

Since we’ve since relayed this story to numerous people and next time will fly with another airline, WestJet not only lost customers but also numerous recommendation and referral opportunities.

And it’s not just me. In 2015, PR Week reported that in a survey of UK consumers carried out by call answering service alldayPA, 76% of respondents who had complained to a business did not receive an apology. In fact, close to half of them (47%) were personally blamed for their complaints.

At the same time, most survey respondents (68%) also said that impolite or unhelpful compliant handlers would cause them to take their business elsewhere.

Time for some customer-retention communication training. Here are a few tips for effectively handling inquiries and complaints.

  • Communicate with customers in a positive, helpful manner
  • Listen attentively to what the individual has to say.
  • Acknowledge a customer’s bad experience. You can soothe many angry customers with a simple “I’m sorry you had this experience.” This doesn’t admit fault, it’s merely empathizing with the person.
  • Do your best to help. Rather than making excuses, consider what you can do. Offer potential solutions or ask the customer for suggestions.
  • Thank the individual for bringing this problem to your attention.

The benefits of this kind of considerate communication?

A major competitive advantage, along with more satisfied customers, more recommendations and referrals, higher profits.

All good reasons to get right on it!

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