When you are the owner of a niche business like we are, it is sometimes a challenge to find industry role models that you can emulate or get advice from. More often than not, I have taken a leap of faith when instead I wished I could have had a discussion with someone in my industry […]
When you are the owner of a niche business like we are, it is sometimes a challenge to find industry role models that you can emulate or get advice from. More often than not, I have taken a leap of faith when instead I wished I could have had a discussion with someone in my industry BEFORE I leaped.
However there are certain business principles that are universal no matter what your business niche is. Like good customer service. (This is different from the customer is always right – cause sometimes they are not.) Good customer service is simple to say, but hard to do consistently.
Even if you have the most unique product/service in your community, if you develop a reputation for bad customer service, people who seek out other alternatives to avoid dealing with you. While every small business can’t provide the level of customer service of a company like Zappos (one of our role models), there are simple things that every business can do to provide good customer service.
An associate of mine, Vicky Brown is the CEO Idomeno Enterprises, a human resources management firm that provides full or select Human Resources services to small and mid sized companies. Although my human resource needs are minimal (because most of my employees are mannequins) I signed up for their newsletter because it keeps me up to date on a variety of issues that impact small business owners.
In the company’s August newsletter was an article about the poor customer service Vicky received at her dry cleaners, despite being a long-term AND regular customer there. From the article I was reminded of two free things that EVERY business owner can do that will make the difference between retaining a customer your company disappointed or permanently losing a customer your company disappointed. Both of those things are free.
1 listening to the customer 2 show empathy to the customer
Here is the post from Vicky’s newsletter – it is a tad long, but worth the read
I went to my favorite cleaners yesterday to pick up my dry cleaning, only to find that they had shredded the fabric of one of my blouses. Let the fit begin.
Things sometime happen, we have all been on the other end of a wronged/damaged customer. But the old adage is true, it’s not what happens, it’s how you handle it that matters.
There, attached to the top of my formerly beautiful blouse, was a note that read “Rejected, material did not withstand D/C”, signed by the owner (we’ll call her “Jane”, because I am exceptionally cranky about this whole ordeal, I feel obligated to change all the names in this story). I am very friendly with Jane, we have had long, involved discussions over the 10 or so years I have made my weekly sojourn to her shop. In fact, we have ‘promised’ to get together for lunch sometime. So, I think I am safe in stating that we are, while not close friends, certainly more than acquaintances. We laugh together, talk about the ups and downs of running a business, and generally have quite a pleasant time together.
So, you could say I was more than miffed that she did not call me to tell me of a problem, just left a note for me to find on my decimated garment. Oh yes, when I say the fabric is shredded, I don’t mean a small tear here and there, I mean it looks like Wolverine was having a bad day with all things teal. Both sleeves are literally slashed crosswise, in 3 or 4 parallel lines.
Bad Call # 1 – not contacting the customer when you identified the problem.
Bad Call # 2 – no solution suggested upon identification of the problem,.
When I spoke to the young lady that was helping me, Mary, she said she would have to call over her supervisor Louise, since Jane wasn’t in at the moment. Mary went looking for Louise, after 5 mins or so, she came back and said Louise would be right over. Mary and I enjoyed an awkward 10 mins waiting for Louise, during which time Mary again left to find Louise, only to return empty handed. When Louise did appear – to say her manner was indifferent would be an understatement – she read the note and said, “Well, yes – looks like the material failed.” “What can we do about this situation”, I asked. “Oh, you’ll have to talk to the owner if you want anything”, Louise replied – all the while looking not at me, the person to whom she was speaking, but toward the front door and other customers.
Bad Call # 3 – Louise is not well suited to customer care.
Bad Call # 4 – Floor manager/supervisor is not empowered to deal with what I am certain is not an unheard of occurrence in the dry cleaning business.
Louise then left. Mary looked at me haplessly, and said (in a tone I can only describe as exasperated), “Why did she leave, she needs to take this off the bill.” She then set off again, in search of Louise to get the bill adjusted.
Bad Call # 5 – Louise is not well suited to managing.
Bad Call # 6 – see Bad Call # 3
Mary reappeared, and proceeded to ring me up. During that process she said the following – each followed by my at first indulgent, and ultimately grateful grunt of agreement:
“I understand how it is.” “I’m really sorry.” “You don’t expect your clothes to come back damaged.” “And sometimes you can’t just replace something because you have had it for a while or got it from someplace specific.” “You wear certain things with certain other things, and now you have to figure out what to substitute.”
While some could argue that Mary’s statements could be seen as undercutting Louise and/or running counter to the business’s position, those observations from Mary took me from a 10.9 on the Richter scale down to a 4.5. As I was thinking back on the situation later, I realized that the most effective customer care action – perhaps the only customer care action – that took place during that afternoon was that Mary made me feel like I was heard, like she understood and had empathy for my place in our little drama.
Mary immediately turned down the flame on my anger to a simmer. And it was just because I felt she UNDERSTOOD my position. She couldn’t do anything about fixing the situation, but she could, and did, make me feel like someone in that business ‘got’ how I felt, and my frustration.
Naturally the question comes to mind – when things don’t go as planned (you can count on death, taxes, and that things will not always go as planned), in addition to having a solution, do we show the customer/client empathy? Do we show them that we understand? Do we let them know they are heard? That goes a long way toward tamping down their anger, and opening them up to working with you on a reasonable solution.
Businesses are peopled by humans, and the natural human response is to defend your position. In your head, you are thinking, “the blouse was probably old”, “it’s not our fault the fabric couldn’t stand up to the dry cleaning process”. But, as a business, adopting a defensive posture only puts you in more conflict with your customer. Yes, there are times you will not be able to make the customer happy, the solution you are willing to offer is not sufficient for the customer. But even in those times, making the customer feel heard and understood is the difference between cable company customer care and Four Seasons customer care.
I don’t yet have a finish to my little dry cleaning saga, I left a note for Jane to give me a call. I am eagerly hoping Jane’s responses will be more Maryish and little or no Louiseish; either way, it will go a long way toward determining where I take my future business.
Idomeneo Enterprises, Inc.