Tag Archives: customer complaints

Yes but …

yes but

What happens when you respond with “yes, but…”?

You know when you get into conversation with someone about an emotive subject, and you’ve said your piece, and someone then says “yes, but….”? You know you are likely to be contradicted. 

And it’s all too easy to almost immediately – even if sub-consciously – to go into defence mode.

It doesn’t matter whether this is a debate with friends, complaining to a supplier, or simply discussing your wish list for your next holiday with your partner, “yes, but” has the same impact.

And it can have the same impact on your colleagues, your team and your customers. 

Earlier this month I was conducting some training on handling poor performance, for a team of junior managers. We got to talking about the language we use, and how much of a bearing that can have on the outcome of performance discussions.

It’s not an unusual reaction when one of your team makes an excuse, or request that you think is unreasonable, to listen patiently, but then respond with “yes, but…”.

Or in meetings with colleagues, when you’re not sure you buy into a suggestion, or when you have a different view or perspective.

Or when faced with a complaint – particularly when you believe it’s unjustified, or it’s not your fault.

Of course, as soon as the team member, colleague or customer hears those words, “yes, but…” they know they are likely to be contradicted, or not get what they want, and it’s easy for them to get on their defence.

So, here are 2 alternatives:

1. The But Flip

This is when you still use the word but, but you flip the structure of the sentence. So, instead of saying “I’d really like to help you with this, but it’s out of my control”, this becomes “It’s out of my control, but I’d really like to help you with this”.

What’s the difference? The first version ends the conversation, whilst the second version makes a natural transition into looking for a solution.

In essence, what you’re doing is telling the team member, colleague or customer what you can’t do first, but then what you can do.

2. Yes, and…

In this instance you are replacing the word but with the word and. (Many people are tempted to use the word however, however… if you’re anything like me when I hear the word however I still know is going to be bad news!)

Yes, but is confrontational and doesn’t get you any further forward, whereas yes, and keeps the conversation positive, and shows you are listening.

Proving the point

Here’s a fun exercise you can use with your team which demonstrates the impact of yes, but and yes, and, whilst giving them an opportunity to practise the technique.

It’s based on improvisation, which means there are no scripts and participants don’t know what they’ll say until they’ve heard the other person. To be successful they have to be present, listen carefully, and contribute freely.

These skills are obviously valuable in a customer service environment, in which adaptability is crucial.

The “Yes, and…” story telling exercise can be carried out by two people or more.

One person starts with one sentence of a story, and the next person builds on that, either bouncing back and forth between two people or circling around in a larger group.

You can take the story in any direction, as long as it builds on top of the previous sentence with a “yes, and…”

It works best with a few simple rules:

  • Don’t deny or contradict
  • Don’t ask open ended questions
  • You don’t have to be funny
  • You can look good by making your partner look good
  • Tell a story

Besides the fun of seeing the story go in the strangest directions, this exercise reinforces a few crucial customer service skills.

One is listening skills. You have to build upon what was said last. Many people – particularly when under pressure – are so focused on what they want to say whilst the other person is talking, they miss half of what’s being said.

It also teaches flexibility. Instead of going against what’s been said, the aim is to build on top of it.

So, set your team a challenge to switch to the but flip or but, and

if you only do one thing: Start with yourself and see how many times you can catch yourself saying “yes, but…” and switch that to the but flip, or “yes, and…

Here’s a short video demonstrating the yes and game: 

Maybe the next time?

thumbs-upI love this little story I found in the paper the other day.

It demonstrates perfectly what can happen when you don’t set your expectations. Even with the most enthusiastic team, unless you give them customer service training explaining your own standards for handling customer complaints sadly even the best intentions might not quite meet your customer’s expectations.

This is what happened:

A couple complained about their meal at a cafe they visited for the first time. When they informed the smiling waitress that the beans were cold, the eggs were hard and the toast was burnt she replied cheerfully: “perhaps it will be better next time you come”.

Hmm, I somehow doubt there will be a next time!

Learn from Complaints

learn from complaintsHere’s a little 5 stage checklist you may find useful in handling a complaint effectively, so you learn from complaints  irrespective of the cause:

  • Listen
  • Empathise
  • Agree on an acceptable solution
  • Restore trust
  • Next steps

Let’s look at each stage in more detail


It can be easy to get defensive when you receive feedback, particularly when you feel it is not justified or you totally disagree with it.

But something must have triggered their perception.  So listen to what your customer is saying.

Listen without interrupting to allow the customer to get it off their chest. Whilst listening think about your reaction; your body language, facial expressions or tone might all give negative messages back to the customer.

Getting irritated or angry you will only make the situation worse. It may be the 100th time you’ve heard this complaint, but your customer does not know this, so be patient as you listen. Stay calm, maintain eye contact and listen. Ask more questions if you need to in order to clarify. Focus on facts, but look to understand how they feel too.

It is useful to reflect back to the customer your understanding of the issue. Summarising their points using their words can show you’ve understood correctly, and it reassures the customer you have all the facts.

Maybe the problem was caused by the customer, but never accuse. This only makes the problem worse. No; the customer isn’t always right, but your goal should be to leave the customer positive and wanting to do business with you again; not to embarrass them, teach them a lesson or score points.

Show Empathy

Acknowledge and show you understand how the customer feels and show your concern, even if it’s not your fault.

The least you can do is to apologise (even if you’re just apologising that they feel that way).

Try to look at the situation from their perspective:

  • they might be frustrated because they’ve had a wasted journey
  • they may be disappointed for their child who can’t get what was promised for their birthday treat
  • they might be angry they’ve spent a lot of money on something that has not lived up to their expectation
  • they might be embarrassed as their special treat for a loved one has been a disappointment
  • they might be feeling anxious because they don’t yet have everything they need for an important meeting or event

Put yourself in their shoes and imagine how you might feel in their situation. Your tone of voice is very important when responding. If you are overly calm you may come across as not being concerned or even patronising.

If you are in the wrong, be bold, and own up. Your customers will thank you for being honest and this all helps to keep the trust.

The very last thing to do is make excuses. Frankly your customers don’t care about your staff shortages, that your suppliers have let you down, that the ‘x’ machine is broken, your company policy, or that no one else has complained. Nor are they interested in hearing “that’s nothing to do with us; it’s down to the organisers / council / landlord….etc.”

Irrespective of whose fault it is your aim should always be to do what you can to have the customer go away happy.

Agree an acceptable solution

Getting it off their chest might be all a customer wants and a simple apology is all that’s needed.

But others will be seeking a resolution. So focus on looking for potential solutions.

It’s important to strike a balance between being positive but showing concern. Use positive language that demonstrates your desire to resolve it. Such as: “Let’s see what we can sort out for you.”  “I’m sure we can get this sorted.”  “If I do ___ would that be acceptable?”

Restore trust

Of course, having agreed a resolution do what you say you’ll do. If you can resolve the problem there and then (which is always preferable) do a check back to ensure the customer is now happy. If it is something that can’t be resolved now, or the action will need a follow up, confirm when this will happen and who will do this.

Find ways you can go that little bit extra, to compensate in some way for their inconvenience.

Next steps

You obviously want to avoid a recurrence of the issue, so take whatever steps are needed to resolve the same thing happening again.

And the final stage is to get reassure customers by showing how you are going to avoid the problem in future, so you can re-establish trust. A customer is unlikely to want to come back if they think they are going to encounter the same problem next time.

I use this structure when training and together these form the acronym LEARN which is easy for team members to remember, and remind them we really can learn from complaints.

Related Posts:

Are complaints a good thing?


Damage Limitation

complaint handling

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.

Make use of waiting time

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.

For example:

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.

Show you listen to your guests

I’ve just been reading an email from an entrepreneur recounting her experiences of the lack or personalisation to a complaint she made following a recent visit to a restaurant.

Every bit of feedback you get from your guests is valuable to you, whether it’s positive or negative and whether you agree with it or not. So treat it as such.

Capture the good and the bad. If you don’t agree with the feedback, rather than getting defensive, find out (tactfully) what has led to their perception, as this may lead to the root of the problem. If you don’t know what disappoints guests, you can’t improve on it, so make sure you are prepared to listen to, and take on board any thoughts on what lets you down, so you can learn from this and address it.

Generally your aim is to retain that customer, but be realistic about the likelihood of a return visit. If they live hundreds, or even thousands of miles away this might be unlikely.  But think about referrals and whom else they might tell. Whether it’s TripAdvisor, on their blog or just word of mouth, the last thing you want is for a disgruntled customer to tell the world about their misfortunes and lack of response on your part.

So even if a return visit isn’t on the cards the very least you can do is to thank them for telling you, that you value their feedback, and demonstrate that you have taken their comments on board. Personalise your response, using their name, their language and show your concern. And finally reflect on the best outcome for this guest / customer for them to feel that their custom and feedback is valued, and leaving them feeling positive about your and your hotel or restaurant.

This is one of the topics covered in Caroline’s interview series How to Give Your Hotel a Competitive Edge.

Dealing with negative feedback and reviews

It can be easy to get defensive when we receive feedback, particularly when we feel it is not justified or we totally disagree with it. What we need to ask is what led to this customer’s perception. This sometimes involves asking questions in a tactful way.

The key thing is to show some empathy with the customer’s point of view. Even if we disagree, something must have triggered their perception.  So listen to what your guest is saying, and aim to turn a negative into a positive. The least you can do is apologise (even if you’re just apologising that they feel that way) and demonstrate what changes you’ve made if appropriate.

Whatever the feedback you receive, listen and learn from it.  Keep your objectivity and don’t take things personally. Use the feedback to identify your strengths, so you can capitalise on these.  And make sure you share these with your team.   Then use the less positive feedback to identify root causes and what changes are needed, and remember to involve your team in the process.

So next time someone wants to give some feedback, look forward to it. It’s the businesses that embrace feedback that will succeed.