Even with the best will in the world sometimes there are things that go wrong; accidents happen, things get missed or events occur that are totally out of your control. So what can we be doing the lessen the impact on our customers’ experience and limit the potential damage to our reputation?
Prevention is better than cure
In a perfect world we’d prevent complaints happening. And certainly we can minimise the number of complaints by taking a few simple actions.
Firstly customers are far more understanding of the situation if they all kept informed or forewarned of any problems. For example, if you know that you’re likely to be busy at certain times of the day, make every effort to let your customers know this. If you let them know when the quieter times are, this not only helps them, it evens out the peaks and troughs for you too.
When you know something is unavailable; maybe something that is a popular feature or product that is not available for whatever reason, give people as much notice as possible either through your website, when booking if relevant, prior to travel or on arrival to minimise disappointment.
The key here is to offer choice and alternatives. This might be a great opportunity to introduce your customers to something they haven’t tried before, or something that could be classed as an ‘upgrade’ (at no additional cost to them, of course). This way they’re introduced to something new, which is good for you, and they get to experience something over and above what they were expecting, so enhances their value for money. A win-win.
We’ve all experienced being put on hold and told how “your call is important to us”. Unfortunately it doesn’t make us feel any better! Queues and being kept waiting are never going to be popular with your customers. But do what you can to minimise the impact. For example if you know when your peak times are adjust your staffing accordingly (ensuring appropriate training is given to anyone who is redeployed to ‘help out’).
For example: hotel checkout at peak times in the morning; you may not have enough terminals to have more people actually doing the checkout, you can at least have people on hand to deal with any queries, printing out bills and so forth. If you have self-service areas, or payment machines, help speed up the process by helping customers; you can avoid the time it takes them to read instructions, which might reduce your transaction time by half, thus reducing queues.
Use customer waiting time as an opportunity to share information, which might speed things up later on. For example, if diners are waiting for a table, give them a menu beforehand so they can be choosing whilst queuing. If queuing to enter an attraction, have information available on the layout, so once inside your visitors have already planned their itinerary.
You can even use the time to entertain, so customers don’t feel put out at all. But, I’m not suggesting anything like the awful music we often get subjected to when we are put on hold, or worse still the sales pitch we get. No, I’m talking about genuine entertainment!
Make waiting time a pleasurable experience by offering your customers something to compensate for their wait. In a hotel or restaurant this might be afternoon tea or a free cocktail, at an attraction or venue this might be a free programme or guide as a thank you for waiting, in a florist or gift shop this might be free gift wrap. And if you’re now subconsciously thinking you couldn’t afford to do this every time someone has to wait; it’s time you reviewed your customer experience. Waiting should be the exception, not the norm. (And compare this investment to the cost of losing the customer altogether.)
And if people have been kept patiently waiting for even a few moments, at the very least acknowledge this and thank them for their patience.
When the chips are down
But of course you’re not always will be able to avoid all complaints. And on occasions we’ll get complaints about things which are totally out of our control anyway.
Most customers accept that things can go wrong from time to time. But only if they’re kept informed.
If something they’ve asked for is no longer available; will be it be available later or not at all. What’s the alternative? What can you offer that might be as good as or even better.
If there is a delay, does the customer wait, or do they do / have something that doesn’t involve waiting? Well, that might depend on just how long they have to wait. When we are put on hold if we’re told we are 2nd in the queue we are far more likely to hang on than if we’re told we are 10th. So let you customers know – is it expected to be a 2 minutes wait or half an hour? Being honest (and not making false promises and under estimating) allows to customer to make an informed decision.
Explanations not excuses
Being kept informed is not about making excuses! It’s about keeping the customer informed of the situation and giving them options…
However there may be times when a little explanation helps diffuse the situation. If there’s been an accident, if it would be unsafe, if their preferred option is not up to standard and likely to disappoint. If it’s relevant to help them see why they’re not getting the experience they’d hoped tell them; if not, don’t! Customers really aren’t interested in your staff shortages or that your suppliers have let you down or that the ‘x’ machine is broken.
And despite our best efforts they’ll be times when all they are interested in is having their say and having someone listen to them, and an opportunity to let off steam.
Better they do that to us than on TripAdvisor!
So in summary to make the best of a bad situation and minimise the negative emotions and potential back flak from customers
- Let customers know at the earliest opportunity when there may be a problem that might impact them, so they can make a decision on whether to wait or risk it, or whether to change or cancel their choice.
- Let them know when what you’ve promised can’t be delivered so they can plan accordingly
- Offer an alternative or give the customer a number of options
- Offer something by way of a reasonable compensation to show you appreciate their patience or inconvenience
- And most of all, admit to any mistakes on your part. Don’t be too proud to apologise.
Your customers will appreciate your honesty and this all helps to keep the trust and relationship sweet, so your customers remain loyal.