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Communication Tips When Customers Complain | Print |  E-mail

Reprinted from CSP Magazine

If you ever talked back with the wrong tone of voice to your parents you probably heard “watch your mouth”. Without realizing it your employees may be eliciting that same feeling in your customers. Listen to my recent nightmare and you’ll see what I mean. See if you can find all the things they did wrong.

Last month I was traveling from Washington, DC to Canada with a layover in Minneapolis. (You can guess the airline.) Departure was scheduled at 11:20am, however it was now 11:35 am. The flight attendant announced we were waiting for a passenger that didn’t have their passport and we would leave as soon as the passport arrived. Immediately I realized this is nuts! I asked the flight attendant “who makes the decision that waiting for one customer out weighs the value of nearly 200 others that have connections and appointments?” She said with her arms cross in a flat tone of voice “I don’t know”. Since she didn’t volunteer to find out I had to ask her “could you please find that person?” After about twenty minutes she told me the supervisor at the gate makes that decision. I asked if they planned to do anything to compensate us for the inconvenience (like a free drink). She responded with “There’s nothing I can do. I can’t give away drinks, company policy requires I count all of them.” As I started to tell her this was ridiculous she interrupted and said, “there’s nothing I can do so don’t shot the messenger”. On a scale of one to ten, ten being very upset I started out at about a four for just being delayed. But the more I talked to the employees of this airline they pushed me toward a ten. At this point I’ve been interrupted and I’ve heard - “I don’t know, I can’t do anything, it’s company policy, don’t shot the messenger”.

Now I honestly don’t think she intended to make matters worse but like most situations all too often the words your employees chose and how they deliver them can escalate a minor situation into a major one. Eventually, I talked to the supervisor and 50 minutes later we departed. After departure they announced they were giving us all a drink coupon for the inconvenience (wonder where they got that idea?). As they handed out the coupon book to everyone (even the passenger that eventually boarded that held us up) I became more upset. The coupon book was a great tool. The coupon book had a phone card to notify family and friends of the delay, a drink coupon, and an apology for the delay. What a great recovery strategy, too bad they treated it like it was gold! If I hadn’t made a point of this they would have never apologized to the 200 passengers they inconvenienced since only the supervisor had to authority to give them away.

Not only were the choice of words wrong but also the tone of voice and body language spoke volumes. Below are just two examples of how easily they could have changed the entire tone of the conversation.

“I don’t know, but let me find out” instead of “I don’t know”.
“I don’t have that authority but let ask the supervisor if we can issue some complimentary drinks” instead of “I can’t, company policy blah blah”.
And never ever interrupt a customer that’s upset. An upset customer is like a balloon. Let them talk to let the air out. If you interrupt, you just added more air to that balloon. This sort of engagement takes place in our stores everyday, especially considering the stress some of our employees our under with the multi-tasking they have to do. If you haven’t prepared them in the magic of words and how to communicate you’re probably losing some customers to the competition.

© 2009 Employee Performance Strategies Inc.
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