‘Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning’ is a quote often attributed to Microsoft founder Bill Gates. How do you view and handle your complaints? Are you really using every opportunity to turn those ouch! moments in to wows! Can your complaints be those extra gifts you’ve be waiting for?
Let’s face it handling a customer complaint is not always something we like to do. We’d much rather be delighting our customers rather than unraveling awkward and sometimes embarrassing situations. It’s often worse when we’re picking up a complaint that has developed from outside our control.
However the key thing is to act to resolve the complaint as quickly and as decisively as you can. Remove the pain and replace with some pleasure. Make sure you stick to your professional agenda by avoiding any temptation to let things get personal. Use all your tact and diplomacy to seek the best possible outcome for all concerned.
Handling complaints needs to go beyond using the necessary skills to deal with the issue. Having a positive attitude towards the complaint will also help. For example, look to welcome the complaint. It’s worth remembering that for every customer who bothers to complain, 26 other customers remain silent*. It’s essential to remain positive as your attitude will influence how you respond. Behaviour breeds behaviour so using phrases such as these will help:
- ‘Thank you for letting me know’
- ‘I am sure we can help’
- ‘I understand….’
- ‘Let me help you get this resolved…’
It’s important to learn from complaints too. Mistakes do happen but we cannot afford for them to be repeated. Poor customer service will seriously damage your wealth. Therefore take time out to review what’s happened to generate the complaint and look to put processes and/or training in place to improve. Look for root causes rather than symptoms. Involve those people who need to be involved, working as a team to make sure a proper solution is in place.
Finally make sure you and your team are trained to take ownership and deal with complaints in a professional way. On our customer excellence training we use the LEARN acronym to provide a useful checklist to handle complaints effectively:
- Listen carefully to your customer. Don’t interrupt or tell the customer to calm down, this will only ignite the anger.
- Empathise to feel the pain of the customer, and tell the customer that you can understand how they feel.
- Apologise to the customer, even if you feel that you have no part in the problem. Do not blame the customer, but there is no need to take the blame yourself
- React by deciding what you will do to resolve the problem, and tell this to the customer.
- Now! – Do not delay. Take immediate action! The longer you wait, the harder it is to produce outstanding customer service.
Paul Beesley, senior consultant, Beyond Theory
Leadership versus management is a topic that is often discussed and debated on our leadership and management development courses. Which is the best? Are they the same? Does it really matter what you call it, so long as you are doing the right thing the right way?
To raise and address these questions we often run a discussion on ‘your best boss versus your worst boss’. We ask people to leave out the names to protect the innocent (or otherwise) but focus on the behaviours that their best managers demonstrated to get the most out of them. We then challenge each participant to decide how they’d like to be remembered by their teams – ‘best boss’ always wins.
We then facilitate a discussion about which are leadership and which are management behaviours. Here is a summary of what people often suggest:
Vision & strategic thinking
Taking risks & seeking change
Appealing to the heart
Focusing on policies & procedures
Having power & control
Risk averse & maintaining stability
Appealing to the head
Maintaining the status quo
Without doubt the outcome is that a blend of both leadership and management behaviours are required. This is needed to engage and motivate employees to enable them to deliver what they need to achieve. A good leader will also need management behaviours to make sure they do deliver. To accomplish a goal it is necessary to set, explain and drive your vision. Leadership often requires being a figurehead, motivating and inspiring others yet mobilising resources (human and otherwise). Manager behaviours check progress and quantify results.
So having established what a leader should be doing, who should actually do the leading? We know that although leadership behaviours can come from within they can also be learnt. Leader is not always a job title, yet very often those with manager in their title will be required to demonstrate the leadership behaviours that their team is looking for. Leadership can be situational and can pass from person to person depending on task. There are times to lead and there are times to manage. Yet the managers of tomorrow need to practice and develop their leadership skills today. I believe that to be a good leader you don’t have to be a manager, but to be a good manager you need to be a leader.
Paul Beesley, senior consultant, Beyond Theory
Over time I have often come across the method of giving feedback using the sandwich technique. I think you’ll recognise this: something positive, something negative and then something positive. Although I appreciate the need to leave people feeling on a high and feeling motivated, I do question whether the so called meat in the sandwich gets distorted or even lost.
So how do we make feedback messages effective?
The first point to consider is our own intention. What is our own motivation to deliver the message? Is it about enabling the other person to improve? Or is our intention about making ourselves feel better or even more important? Our attitude will influence our behaviour.
The second point is about timing. When is the best time for feedback? Ideally as soon as possible but distractions need to be managed. Also, is the person ready to receive the feedback? How prepared and ready are you to deliver the message?
The third point is the feedback message itself. Is this to be helpful information to improve or simply just criticism? Are you looking to build performance and confidence or destroy motivation? My research suggests that something like 60% of performance is down to confidence so we need to be very careful with how we frame our feedback message.
The fourth point is our content and method of delivery. Here is what we promote on our leadership and management training courses:
- Describe specific observable behaviour (as this cannot be denied). This needs to focus on what actually happened. For example: ‘I noticed that you were quite short with that customer on the telephone just now’.
- State the impact on you (as this cannot be denied either) and include feelings if you wish. ‘This is surprising because you’re normally very patient with people who call. I feel you rather let yourself down and we could be at risk of losing a valuable customer’.
- Say what you’d like to happen in future (or maybe continue if you want to reinforce the behaviour). ‘If you feel that someone is causing you difficulties and you feel your patience is running low then ask to call the customer back so you can fully resolve the problem. Use this time to get all the facts, re-gather your thoughts and compose yourself. If you need help, just ask’.
So often delivering feedback, whether positive or negative, can become clumsy or even avoided altogether because managers don’t have the confidence themselves to deliver their messages clearly. Using the above will help, but you’ll need to practice and receive feedback on your own ways of giving feedback. And avoid the bread. Most people want their feedback straight and to the point.
We all know and appreciate the power of language. It is often said that the meaning of communication is the reaction you get. Language can be positive as well as negative. Language will often evoke emotion, both good and bad. Sometimes the issue is that what is good for us can be bad for others.
Metaphors are often used too, either intentionally or at a sub-conscious level. These conjure up images that go far beyond just words. Stories can often take on significant meaning for the storyteller and for those on the receiving end. Once again meaning and interpretations will differ, depending on our own individual experiences.
Take this example: A colleague of mine has described how their company develops their business. They chose the metaphor of whale hunting, saying how they are not interested in pursuing the small fish but only interested in chasing the big accounts, the giants in the sea. Often the whales aren’t caught, but when one is landed then it makes all the effort so worthwhile.
Ouch…! Although I can see where this company is coming from, the metaphor of a whale hunt is not something I enjoy. I like whales. They’re fellow mammals. They’re understood to have many endearing qualities, many of which are associated with our own human species. I have also seen footage of a whale hunt. Not a pretty site. And I’ve also seen pictures of how a whale is butchered and then left to rot once it has been chased down, stripped of all its ‘valuable parts’. I’ll spare you my thoughts about how the products are produced from the whale. I think you know where I’m going….
My learning from this use of metaphor is that we really must choose our language, words and metaphors very carefully. The intention may be positive yet the impact can be very negative. The image that I have of the company who see themselves as whale hunters and their clients as whales to be hunted does not work for me. It clashes with my own values and philosophy of how business should be done.
Please think carefully about the language and metaphors that you choose too. The meaning of communication is very much in the response that you’ll get.
We’re in mid-summer. Looking ahead the autumn is on our horizon. Autumn brings the business conference and exhibition season. So now is the time for you to begin to plan how to make an exhibition of yourself and your company – for all the right reasons of course. You’ll want to Wow! your potential customers.
In March this year our company, Beyond Theory, successfully exhibited at a business exhibition. The event was successful for us not only because of the contacts and leads that we made but because of the valuable lessons we learned for future exhibitions.
Here are our learning points that we’d like to share and recommend:
- Start your exhibition plans early. There’s much to do and time invested now will save much effort and anguish later.
- Book your place at the exhibition as soon as you can. By definition popular exhibitions fill up early.
- Build a positive relationship with the exhibition organisers. If you can, negotiate a position that will suit you best – i.e. where will you be most visible? Don’t overlook the need for access to power sockets too.
- Plan your marketing collateral such a brochures, leaflets and any gifts that you’d like to use. Look to offer something of value – for example something that is both practical and memorable. Where you can appeal to each of our 5 senses: visual, hearing, touch, smell and taste.
- Plan for any equipment that you’ll need such as a pop-up stand or even a monitor. These need to be eye catching.
- Consider your dress code. First impressions count for very much and potential customers will make judgements based on your appearance. Make sure they’re the right judgements. And wear comfortable shoes – you’ll be on your feet for a long time.
- Include an incentive to entice people to visit your stand. Having a competition, special offers and/or discounts may be something to consider. Originality is more likely to strike a chord.
- Plan and then begin your social media campaign to let others know that you are exhibiting. You may also want to email or write to potential customers to invite them to come and meet you at the event itself.
On the day
- Arrive early to set up – perhaps on the day before if you can. This will help you deal with any unforeseen surprises as well as making sure you’re 100% ready when the exhibition opens.
- Consider your layout and avoid the cardinal sin of seating yourselves behind a desk or a table. Exhibitions are very much about being approachable and a desk or table will only serve as a barrier.
- Keep your stand tidy by stowing away any unnecessary clutter. This includes your all important refreshments that you’ll need to keep you going throughout the day.
- Make sure you have at least 2 people manning your stand. You need to avoid visitors queuing to speak with you. You’ll also need to give yourselves a comfort break. Having the capability to meet with potential clients for informal meetings in the coffee area is another reason for having more than one person on your stand.
- Undertake a dress code check with your exhibition partner(s). Build this into your plans, which also need to include checking any technology and equipment that you’re using.
- Consider how you are approaching, engaging and then saying goodbye to your visitors. Choose your words wisely with lots of open questions. Body language will play an important role too – being open and inviting rather than being closed and unfriendly.
- Have a slick and easy process in place to record your stand’s visitors. Contact details are a must. Note down any particular areas of interest. This will help you follow up later.
- Make sure that your incentive for visitors to come and visit your stand is visible. Be as creative as you can.
- Your marketing collateral of brochures and leaflets will need to be well-positioned and easy to access. Treat these as a visual aid to explain the products and services that your company offers. Build your marketing materials into your ‘elevator pitch’.
- Make time to interact with other exhibitors to spread the love that you have for your company. They may become valuable referral partners, suppliers and even potential customers in the future.
- Take the opportunity to broadcast your exhibition activity on social media. Include photos and updates (with others’ permission of course) to tell the world the success that you’re having. However, avoid at all costs using your mobile device at the expense of dealing with your visitors.
- Close down your stand at the end of the exhibition and not before. On too many occasions I have seen companies packing up too early which gives a very poor impression. A valuable potential customer may be your last visitor of the day.
- No surprises here: follow up, follow up and follow up. Use the information that you have gained intelligently to re-connect with the people you met at the exhibition. They’ll be expecting your call.
- Continue your social media campaign. Thank the people you met. Thank the people who helped. Thank the people who organised.
- Evaluate your exhibition activity by undertaking a cost v benefit analysis. Establish the return on investment. Also consider any soft measures that may apply – for example increase in company profile, confidence levels etc.
- As we did in March, record your learning points and build in a review meeting with your team. This will determine how exhibiting at future events will feature in your future marketing strategy.
Beyond Theory is exhibiting at The Independent Hotel Show at London Olympia on 18 October -19 October 2016. You find us spreading our love about our company on Stand 153. Come and find us. We’d love to meet you.
Employee Data Analysis