Handling complaints is an opportunity not an aggravation

June 18, 2012
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It’s Saturday night around 6 p.m.: early dinner for Jessica, Gabrielle and me. We’re sitting in Carrabba’s Italian Grill in Charlotte. We’ve been customers at this location for as long as it has been there. We’ve seen several managers come and go, and hundreds of servers come and go.

This particular visit was pivotal because it may have been our last. The restaurant’s 10-year consistency has been compromised in at least three ways: 1. New bread — lower quality. 2. New croutons — lower quality. 3. New espresso — lower quality. It used to serve the best espresso in the city (Illy). But it seems corporate decided to remove all the machines and substitute with a lesser (cheaper) brand.

Same price. Lower quality. More profit. Not good for anyone but them.

And they’re not bragging about their new low quality. I guess they figured no one would notice. I was disappointed. Not angry or anything, I just had an expectation when we entered the restaurant that wasn’t met when we were served.

The manager happened by. I asked him about the sudden reduction in quality. He smiled, hemmed, hawed and looked embarrassed that we “caught” them. He, of course, blamed it on “corporate.” I asked him for an e-mail address to voice my concern. He promised he would return with it. He never did.

As the manager walked by our table a second time, we heard him say, “Another aggravated customer.” He was referring to some people waiting to be seated. He did nothing about it. Sad.

REALITY: When a customer is aggravated, complaining or angry, there’s a reason. If you’re smart enough, empathetic enough and willing enough, you can discover the reason, help the customer, resolve the issue and prevent the same thing from happening again.

Stop reading and start thinking: I’m not just writing about Carrabba’s; I’m writing about YOU. You have customers that complain, don’t you? How do you receive the concern or the complaint? How is a complaint handled? What do you do about it? How do you turn it into a wow?

Here’s what it is — and what it isn’t:

It’s an opportunity, not an aggravation.

It’s an opportunity, not a problem.

It’s an opportunity, not a complaint.

It’s a chance for wow, not an angry customer.

It’s a chance for management to convert to leadership.

It’s a chance to get a positive post on Facebook.

It’s a chance for the customer to “tweet” their pleasure.

It’s a chance to create a loyal customer.

It’s a chance to generate positive word-of-mouth advertising.

It’s an opportunity to prevent this situation from reoccurring.

Gripe reality: Defensive response is the normal first reaction:

•Blaming others.

•Blaming circumstances.

•Telling the customer how to talk. (“I’d appreciate if you’d calm down,” rather than trying to find the reason they’re angry.) Condescending comments by “customer service” people makes a mad customer more mad.

•Don’t defend it. No one cares about the reason or the excuse.

If you really want aggravation, complaints and anger to diminish, here are the elements you must possess and execute:

•Attitude of acceptance.

•Attitude of reception.

•Attitude that’s willing to listen with the intent to understand.

•Attitude of taking responsibility.

•Resilience of manager or leader.

•Ability to respond in a friendly, pleasant manner.

•Challenge yourself not to make an excuse, blame someone, blame something or make some snide remark.

•Challenge yourself to promote positive internal communication.

•Genuine gratefulness to help and serve.

Loyalty reality: Every aggravation, complaint, concern, discussion or question posed by a customer is a huge FREE opportunity to improve your business by a factor of wow — and for little or no money.

And a bit more reality: When managers and employees turn over at a high rate, it’s not the “nature of the business”; it’s the cheapness and policies of the home office. When you try to milk a nickel to save a penny, when you sacrifice quality just to increase profits, you lose employees, customers, goodwill and reputation.

Me? I’ll go away with a little bit of noise; others will just go away.

You? Document the issue, the resolve, the response and the outcome.

These are the steps: Listen. Process. Think. Take responsibility. Question. Respond. Say something positive. Do something positive. Wow.

Train that.

Jeffrey Gitomer’s website, www.gitomer.com, has more information about training and seminars, or e-mail him at salesman@gitomer.com

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