The Ark: Business Principles – When things go wrong …

I posted last week about Customer service  after I had experienced service that made me think about what it means to me.  Since then I have been doing a pile of reading including a book I have enjoyed.  The focus is setting up a coffee bar; part of what I intend to create will involve a café (with a difference) so I was keen to gain from experienced professionals in the sector.

Now I am not intending to compete directly with the big names in the business – the café for my business is a vehicle rather than the product, but I found some of their ideas really interesting and thought provoking.  For example Customer Satisfaction is not enough to keep a business healthy what we need to acquire is customer loyalty.  The authors tell us that loyal customers will fight to stay loyal even when things are not quite right.  They also suggest a satisfied customer will only tell 3 people whereas a dissatisfied customer will tell 10 (in our modern Social Media world they are likely to tell a whole heap more than that!)

Clearly in my business planning I need to include how I will build customer loyalty and how staff can do so when I am not there directing them.  This led me back to a book I have read several times and will be dusting off for a refresher – Maverick by Ricardo Semler.  When I read it originally it was because we had a case study at College based on part of it and it made me think that other people do see alternative business practices as viable – until then I just thought I was off the wall weird.  I had to read the book and currently I sit in the group of people who admire this man but do not yet emulate him – I want to jump ship and join that small elite band.

Now however good the business and however excellent the staff I am realistic enough to know that things will go wrong and people will complain – so how will I and the business deal with that?  Actually this doesn’t worry me because many moons ago I worked in a large organisation where the Reception Team often couldn’t handle a complainant on the phone (because they were on a busy switchboard) and it became practice to forward the call to me.  Why?

  • Through working at a welfare advice organisation I had learned that when a person calls in distress we often need to let them finish what they are saying before we tell them we are not the person to help them; the caller has probably been practising their speech for hours before picking up the phone – this applies to complainers also.  Let them finish and when they pause is the respondents opportunity
  • Through working in an academic organisation where I was literally sat in a greenhouse in high summer editing a large (3000 page) document  on the PC I learned patience.  When someone complains we need to be patient with them without being patronising; they need to feel they are the centre of the respondents world.
  • People like my telephone voice and persona

When I handled a complaint, therefore, I followed a process:

  1. I told the person my name, asked how I could help and then listened;
  2. If they were aggressive – when they paused for breath I would let them know I had listened, was keen to help but needed them to speak calmly so I could understand exactly what was the problem; (NB many folk use a technique here where they state “If you continue to be abusive I will have to hang up” – I have never used that technique and feel that the person is not directing the abuse at my personally)
  3. If they were calm when they paused I started to ask for additional detail;
  4. When I had a picture of the issue I would summarise it for them and ask what they expected to happen;
  5. I would assure them that it would receive my personal attention and even if someone else was going to take action I would call them back to update them;
  6. I never made promises;
  7. I tried to exceed their expectations but always at least met them;
  8. I always called them back.

I dealt with their complaints on the phone, I made sure actions were taken to resolve the matter to their satisfaction.  Not only did I never lose one of them as a customer of the business but possibly the most vocal and aggressive complainer I dealt with paid a significantly higher fee the following year and referred several new clients to us – I guess this is what I mean by acquiring customer loyalty rather than simply satisfying them.

There are occasions where retaining a customer is in fact not healthy for a business … but they must never be ‘ditched’ via their complaint.  That is  a whole other topic!

So that is my approach and my style and initially will be my rules; but if I am to operate a truly person centred business (a la Semler) then I need to spend time on working with staff so that they develop an effective style for dealing with complaints that becomes the style of all of them … a challenge but then challenges are opportunities in disguise!


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About nonehpets

I have an interest in how interior design and adapting a home to support living independently for longer can be complementary. The blog Life Long Design is part of an holistic plan for establishing a social enterprise which will offer the people of Tayside opportunities to explore Telecare and the wider scope of assistive technologies. Enabling individuals to make more informed and responsible choices in the care and support they need in their independent living. I am also keen to see public transport more widely adopted and sustainable rural bus services in particular supported. The Blog Travels with a Megarider shares my journey to find serenity in my life as I make that transition form employment to social entrepreneur. One of my methods in increasing serenity is to travel as many miles as I can on a fixed price bus ticket and explore my own local places of interest. Places that I used to go past and had never stopped to look at; places of peace and tranquility; places where I have had some wonderful conversations with complete strangers. I would like to share with you a response to when I described that one paragraph in an e-mail made it sound simple: "Believe me, Cathy, it does not sound simple. You are taking on an incredible challenge for all the right reasons. It is ambitious and admirable - the sort of project that can change lives, including yours." He is right it is ambitious but when did we every achieve anything by settling for the status quo and ignoring what doesn't work for people? So I would welcome your company from time to time on this journey either simply as a reader or if you are brave enough adding your own thoughts to the comments as you feel moved.

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