When Bad Customers Happen to Good Businesses

Roy Katz Comments
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Awhile back, some friends and I dined at a newly opened but already popular Italian restaurant. The atmosphere was pleasant, the staff attentive and the food a delight. We were having a great time. A party of six at the next table, however, was not.

From the moment she arrived, one woman seemed unhappy with everything. Service was “too slow” then “too rushed.” She had the waiter describe the special twice, and then ordered it the way she wanted it with none of the key ingredients. When the meal arrived, she complained it was tasteless. When the waiter politely explained it was prepared according to her requests, she angrily belittled him. Even the people at the table seemed embarrassed by her behavior.

The manager came over and calmly listened to the woman. He said, “I will gladly fix you another dish, because this meal clearly did not meet your expectations. Moreover, I will remove your meal from the bill.” The woman seemed mollified, but her dinner companions ate in silence. When they left, her date pressed some bills into the waiter’s hand.

In this case, the customer wasn’t right, but the manager did the right thing. He won the admiration of the remainder of the group and kept one person from ruining the evening for a roomful of diners. When he stopped by our table, we complimented him. He shrugged and said, “Research has shown that people will tell three to five friends about a good dining experience. But they’ll tell more than a dozen about a bad one. To make our place succeed, we have to strive to meet the expectations of all our customers.”

Service Supremo

What can operators learn from this experience? In the self-storage industry, most facilities offer the same features: climate control, automatic-payment options, etc. So how does one stand apart from the rest? Through its reputation for supreme customer service.

The natural response of most employees is to approach customer complaints from an “I’m right, you’re wrong” adversarial perspective. But as the restaurant manager in our story understood, the first goal should always be to keep the customer happy—even an argumentative or unreasonable one.

Does this mean you should let customers manipulate you? Let’s consider the return counter at a large department store. People can return merchandise for any reason with no questions asked. Are a few of those customers taking advantage of the business? Sure. Is the store still making lots of money? Sure. It strives to keep all customers satisfied, even if some are dishonest or in the wrong. Moreover, it considers this part of the cost of doing business (or the cost of public relations).

The bottom line is storage owners should train employees to defuse arguments with a calm demeanor, a truly customer-conscious attitude, and a willingness to look at the bigger picture. It’s best to teach sales and customer-service people that when arguing with a customer, it’s possible to win the argument but lose the business.

To completely teach customer-service skills would require more space than I have here, but there are some excellent resources on the Internet. When I type “dealing with customer complaints” into a search engine, I come up with more than 2 million hits. One of the first websites I discovered was www.school-for-champions.com. It’s very basic, but it’s a good starting point.

Roy Katz is the president of Supply Side, which distributes packaging as well as moving and storage supplies. The company has developed merchandising programs for many leading companies including Storage USA, the U.S. Postal Service, Uncle Bob’s Self Storage, Kinko’s, Mail Boxes Etc. and The UPS Stores. For more information, visit www.suplyside.com.

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