Friday, April 23, 2010

Thank you. Tell Me More.

Someone emailed me this week to tell me I had made a mistake. When I thanked her, she was surprised I didn’t take offense. I told her that I have to practice what I preach. Although no one likes be told they are wrong, when you are told you’ve failed or made a mistake, especially if the news comes from a customer, you must give some variation of the response, “Thank you. Tell me more.”

Whether the relationship is customer and service provider, husband and wife, co-workers or friends, when it comes to building and maintaining relationships, one must learn to appreciate criticism. It is a skill that is very hard to master, but oh so important. Although there are many people who like to complain just for the sake of complaining, sometimes, a complaint represents an opportunity to maintain the relationship.

Why do we complain?

How many of you have experienced bad customer service? I’ll bet all of you. How many of you have said something to the offending service provider? Why? Why not? I’ll bet the reason you did say something is the same reason I am telling you to learn to appreciate complaints…because you wanted to continue the relationship.

Think about it. If you didn’t care about continuing the customer-provider relationship, you wouldn’t have bothered. I’ll relate a couple of stories to illustrate my point.

My impromptu shopping experiment

A few months back, I stopped in a make-up store in search of lip gloss. Now if you don’t know me, you don’t know that I usually only go shopping for a reason. I don’t window shop. If I am shopping, I’m looking for something in particular. In some ways, I shop like a man. I go in. I look for a few moments and if I don’t see what I’m looking for, I ask a sales person. If they can’t help, I move on to the next store.

I walked into this store and started to look around, I was on the verge of asking for assistance, when I realized that the two salespersons in this small boutique never greeted me or asked me if they could help me. I decided to do a quick experiment. I waited and walked past them to see if they would say anything. When another patron entered the store and they immediately said, “Hello, how are you!” I was suspicious. When the next patron entered the store and she too was greeted with a cheery “Hello” and an offer for assistance, I knew. I was shopping while black. The difference between me and the other two patrons was that I was in a business suit and African American and they were in casual clothes and were Caucasian.

After walking around the small store for more than fifteen minutes and purposefully meeting the eyes of both of the sales staff, I finally decided to leave, sans lip gloss. After requesting the name and card of the store manager -- for the purpose of writing a complaint letter – I left. Yet, within five minutes of entering my car, I said to myself, “Why bother!”

My life would suffer no hardship if I never entered that store again in my life. I had no investment. I didn’t care. And truth be told, they probably could care less if I never entered their store either; for it was obvious from that visit, they didn’t care about my business.

Customer Service Hero

Now let’s transition to another experience. My family and I go out to dinner entirely too much. At one of our favorite family style restaurants, there is a manager who works his butt off. Whenever we are there and Mike is on duty, we see him zipping around the restaurant and because of his leadership and example, his staff work harder too. By contrast, sometimes when Mike is not there, we can tell.

After one of those occasions when we experienced a less than stellar customer service visit, we were there when Mike was back. As someone who knows the importance of recognizing his regular customers, Mike came by our table and asked us how things were. Now my husband and I, in addition to being customers who like to tease and joke around with our servers, are also very candid. We told Mike everything was great, today, but the last time, “We could tell you weren’t here.”

Mike, my customer service hero said, “Thank you for letting me know. Tell me what happened.”

Mike knew us as regular customers. He recognized that we were customers who were looking to continue the relationship. We were not complaining just to complain. We were giving him a chance to make things right; to make improvements in his operations. We were saying, “We care enough to let you know. Do you care enough about us to have the right response?”

If your customers care enough to make the effort to complain to you, you should care enough to appreciate the opportunity. The opportunity for improvement. The opportunity to save and maintain the relationship. The opportunity to meet and exceed their expectations. The opportunity to say, “Thank you. Tell me more.”

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