Saturday, November 5, 2011

The customer is..........

I was chatting with my friend Graham (grey-hum) last night who is both a business and social media whiz kid Whiz Guy.... and we were sharing stories of sending feedback to places we shop or eat at and what kind of responses we got...or didn't..... as was the case.  Graham has very good instincts about how to develop and maintain good public relations for a business - he had many genius ideas (and some whacked out ones too  - not many - but a few) but we both agreed that it is only at your peril that you ignore customer feedback.

These sorts of discussion always make me think because I run a customer service organisation.  People pay "me" (the Society of Richmond Children's Centres) a fee and we provide them an exemplary, top-notch service with exceptional staff in beautiful custom-built environments.......until we drop the ball on something......and we do.....there are alot of balls in the air at any given moment as we care for 100 children everyday and we do, occasionally screw up.

And the buck stops on my desk.

I have learned a great deal about how best to handle these situations over the years.  It is a real skill to strike the right balance between accepting the feedback/criticism and making the apology and/or rejecting the criticism, stating the boundaries and holding the line/defending the actions of staff......without being either defensive or too passive.

I have learned alot about clarifying things to get to the actual issue, taking my time in responding especially if the other party is angry, using clear, simple statements and making it right if I can and always.....always following up later to make sure all is going as planned.

I recently had a challenging situation with my dentist...... some major miscommunication led to me getting a very large and completely unexpected bill.  After some discussion with the office staff I realised I was stuck with the bill.  I went in to pay it, in full, but I left a letter for the dentist with my frustrations clearly and simply stated and asked that any further dealings with my family be handled differently.

Within 2 hours the dentist called (on a Saturday) to thank me for the letter!  She so rightly stated that she appreciated the fact that I took the time to let them know I was frustrated instead of just walking away. (I always thank people for letting me know there is a problem - I can't solve a problem I don't know about).  She promised to get onto the concerns first thing Monday and get back to me by the middle of the week with what they discovered.  She acknowledged I had a concern, that her staff needed the opportunity to give their "side" and that I deserved a timely response.

I was already impressed.

And then the following Thursday I came home to a letter from the dentist that was possibly the most perfectly written response to a complaint I have ever read. It fully acknowledged the issue, apologised unreservedly for the the failure of their internal systems, the failure of all their checks and balances. Restated their commitment to a level of service provision I should expect and reiterated that we mattered to them as clients and they wanted to make the situation right.

They enclosed a cheque for the full amount I had paid.

They "had" me at the letter - it was brilliant - had the exact right tone.  The cheque seemed overly generous.  Allan and I debated what to do.  I imagined myself in a similar situation of wanting to make a situation right and how I would feel if the remedy I gave was rejected.  We knew that we would want to stay with this dentist and for the relationship to be restored so we cashed the cheque (with a small pang of concern lingering).

It was a great lesson for me.  It was a great example of customer service. 

And BTW - if you need help with your business and social media and customer service yadda yadda yadda...... let me know and I will send Graham your way!

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