Service: Dealing with customers

A FEW years ago I bought a packet of diapers from a local supermarket. Subsequently, I noticed that most of them were rejects and decided to take them back to the supermarket.

The attendant I dealt with was not amused by my complaint. He basically told me that I was being unreasonable and that none of their customers had ever complained about the product or returned it.

That comment did not deter me. I stood my ground until I was given a new packet.   I also made sure I never returned to that supermarket.

In business, things do not always go right.  Mistakes happen which may result in customers being dissatisfied with a particular service.

How employees handle those mistakes will determine the level of service the organisation provides and the loyalty that service instills in customers.

John Tschohl, an internationally-recognised service strategist, has written an interesting article on service recovery. I would like to share some of his insights.

He defines service recovery as “doing whatever it takes to solve a customer’s problem — and doing it quickly”. He highlights four simple steps that need to be taken when things go wrong.

  • Act quickly.
    Solving a customer’s problem quickly, will not only maintain that customer’s loyalty, but save an organisation money too.  How?  An organisation runs the risk of losing that customer if the problem is not solved in time.  Research shows that it costs far more to gain new customers than to retain existing customers.
  • Take responsibility
    Most employees, when faced with a complaining customer, take the attitude, “I did not cause the problem, so why should I apologise?” They take complaints personally rather than merely apologising for the situation and then work quickly to resolve it.
  • Be empowered
    In order to put service recovery into practice, it is necessary that managers and supervisors empower their employees. That means giving them the authority to do whatever is necessary to take care of the customer.
  • Compensate the customer
    Every organisation has something of low cost but high value that it can give a customer as compensation for a problem. For example, a hotel can upgrade a guest’s room to a suite.  In this case, the cost to the company is virtually zero.

Tschohl goes on to use an interesting illustration to show the distinction between customer service and service recovery.  He states that “if I buy a bag of apples, discover that half of them are rotten, and the store gives me a new bag of apples, that’s customer service. If, however, the store replaces that bag of apples and gives me another at no charge, that’s service recovery.”

“If carried out well, service recovery can bring in new customers and strengthen your bottom line.”

 Nonto Masuku is an executive partner of an image management firm

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