How To Be A Good Customer (And Get What You Want)

All businesses are customer service businesses, whether you’re selling widgets or repairing plumbing.  You can’t do business in a vacuum.  You need customers, therefore, it goes without saying that it’s in your best interests to make them happy.  However, here’s a tip: you don’t necessarily need all of them.

I’ve been a manager in the business world for something like 30 years, 22 of them in the business I’m currently in, which makes me the Complaint Department.  But I’m also a customer of many other businesses, and my own customers have taught me everything I know about how to be a good customer, mostly by behaving badly.  I’d say my success rate is much higher than theirs.

Locally there is a business consultant named Jerry Osteryoung.  Here are a few of his qualifications:  Jim Moran Professor Emeritus of Entrepreneurship and Professor Emeritus of Finance at Florida State University; book author; newspaper contributor; consultant to over 3,000 businesses.  He used to write a weekly column for the Tallahassee Democrat, primarily about how to deal with customers and employees.  His viewpoint was a breath of fresh air.

The subject of one of his articles was the meme “The customer is always right.”  His take on that?  Who says?  Whose bright idea was that, anyway?  I almost jumped for joy when I read this article.  He said, the customer is always right, until they aren’t.  Sometimes, he said, the best thing to do is cut your losses.  Part of the old meme was “research” showed a customer who had a bad experience with you would tell 11 people, whereas a customer who had a good experience would tell 3 (if any).  So a lot of attention was focused on bad experiences, out of fear of losing not just one, but eleven customers.  Jerry said, sometimes you just have to say, “Clearly I can’t make you happy, so it would probably be best for us both if you found another provider”.  First, of course, you have to try.  You have to listen.  You have to ask yourself sincerely whether you or one of your employees did something wrong, and even if not, whether you could have done something better.  You have to give the customer the benefit of the doubt.  Neither Jerry nor I are talking about blowing off customers, which would be suicidal.  But it is entirely true that some customers will never be happy unless they are not only made whole for their perceived bad experience, but be in better shape than they were before.  I have two favorite illustrations of this principle, one I only learned of this week.

First,  I have a friend who works in the Customer Service Department for Carnival Cruise Lines.  He once got a call from a customer who wanted the entire price of his two-week cruise refunded, because one night, they served shrimp for dinner.  Not that he’s allergic to shrimp.  He just doesn’t like it.  And there was another option.  The customer’s point was that since he doesn’t like shrimp, that left him with only one option instead of two, so he “deserved” to have his entire fee refunded.  My friend gave him the standard response, “I’m sorry.  We’ll give you a 10% discount on your next cruise”.  The customer demanded to talk to a supervisor.  He got the standard supervisor response–“I’m sorry.  We’ll give you 20% off your next cruise”.  And that was the end of the line for him.  No amount of threatening to call the President of the company, posting evil things about Carnival on Facebook, or telling all his friends and family to boycott Carnival forever was going to get him any further, because what he wanted was unreasonable.

Example #2:  A restaurant in Asheville, North Carolina accidentally served sangria to a toddler, who took two sips before someone realized the mistake.  The family finished their meal, then “rushed” the toddler to the ER an hour later.  Wisely, the restaurant manager went with them.  The manager says the ER said the child was indeed sick, but from an upper respiratory infection.  The family says it was alcohol poisoning.  I’m quite sure the meal was free, since the restaurant acknowledged the mistake.  So what else does the family want.  My guess is, the keys to the restaurant.  They will lose.  But the attitude here and in many other cases is, “It doesn’t hurt to try, right?”  Well, yes, it does.

The impetus for this post is that a friend of a friend person on Facebook has had a very frustrating week with customer service issues.  I sort of half-jokingly offered to post tips, which in fact I will never do, because I don’t think she would like them.  They would work, but she still wouldn’t like them.  Understand, this is a lovely woman, in all the ways we mean that in the South.  Beautiful, elegant, well-educated, a former college instructor, very artistic.  But she is having difficulty navigating the outside world.  She has two main issues.  She can’t find the light bulbs she wants after going to two major hardware stores.  She feels dismissed by them, as they don’t seem to want to help her (they’ve tried to explain to her why, but it’s unacceptable to her).  She feels she has been deceived by ATT, since she accepted a “bundle”, and got a new telephone which won’t work if the power goes out.   Her solution has been to write letters to the Presidents/ Chairmen of the companies.

I may not be able to post these tips on Facebook, but I can do it here.

1.  Lose the entitlement attitude.  No, the customer is not always right, and that may include you.

2.  Ask yourself if you have truly been wronged, or if you want something because you’re special.

3.  If you’ve truly been wronged, make them want to help you.  You ask.  You don’t demand.  You don’t threaten.  “I’m never coming back here!” (Okay, we won’t miss you.)  “I’m writing the President of your company!” (Please do, I want you to tell him how much you hate shrimp.) “I’ll have your job!” (Good luck with that.)

4.  Ask yourself what you would be satisfied with if you don’t get everything you want.  A friend recently asked that question about the protestors in Ferguson, Missouri.  The Justice Department determined that major changes were needed in the police department, and a half-dozen high officials in the city have resigned–but people are still protesting.  So, what is it you want?  When will you know you’re happy?

These are just the bare bones of how to be a good customer.  You can follow them or be permanently outraged, which is an unfortunate way to live.  Life is short.

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5 responses to “How To Be A Good Customer (And Get What You Want)

  1. I wrote about this customer service issue around 6 years ago. I really wasn’t a bad customer…..http://www.dailyspeculations.com/wordpress/?p=4944

  2. Your tips are good too.

  3. Stayed at the Las Vega Hilton once because of a promo. When I checked in, I learned that there also was some sort of golf or other event and lots of players were staying there. Longest check-in line I’d ever seen in Vegas and there were maybe three clerks. Also, no “Hilton Honors members only” line and I am one.

    After a good half hour, I finally get to a clerk, who apologizes profusely. I calmly said it wasn’t her fault; management should have scheduled more staff because of the event. And, I was surprised there was no special line for the HH members.

    I had booked a “standard” room, but when we went in, she had obviously upgraded us and the room also had a great view.

    So, the “squeaky wheel” always getting then grease is not always true.

  4. Your experience is a perfect example of my rule #3.

  5. Here is an example of how to be a bad customer. On the day of Springtime Tallahassee, two ladies came in and paid their $5 parking fee. (Normally, it would be $1 on Saturday.) They went to Harry’s restaurant and discovered there was a 40 minute wait for a table. (Imagine that, on the day of the biggest event in Tallahassee!) They elected not to wait. Then insisted on a refund of the parking fee. The rationale was, they weren’t going to the event, they were just trying to have lunch (at 3 PM). I explained that we had no idea where they were going (our Superman X-ray vision capability is broken) but that on days when there are events, parking is $5, no matter where you’re going. They asked to speak to the manager. I said, I am the manager. They said, well you have a boss too. I said yes, but right now, that isn’t going to do you any good, because I’m not giving you back your $5. They said they would certainly pursue action against me because I was so rude and unreasonable. (Rude, by the way, means, you said no.) I didn’t even go into the part where they chose to come out on the day of Springtime Tallahassee, chose to park where they did, and chose not to wait for the table, none of which is under my control.

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