Monday, 4 May 2009

Get Me The Manager

Personally, I get fed up with companies and organisations that do not have a sense of responsibility in their dealings. Maybe I am getting grumpier than I realised but I seem to feel the hairs on the back of neck rising more often these days. The eyes flash as I check the politeness filters are in place before I steam into print or purposefully pick up the phone. 

It is more effective to remain calm and devastatingly polite as you make your case all the while maintaining a steely assurance that you are on the receiving end of some unutterable clap trap and that should they not be able to sort it out, then there will be widespread distribution of pain and embarrassment all round.

I feel the same indignation at the sight of others receiving dreadful service or otherwise being treated less than professionally. I always think it is a curse to be an expert in something. Imagine if you are an expert in carpets. Everywhere you look you would not be able to avoid noticing how badly this was laid, or how that grade of carpet was wrongly placed. Worse still if you are a dentist. Every time someone talks to you it must be difficult to switch off the professional interest.

So for me, having spent 30 years dealing with a well trained service industry it is red rag to a bull to witness some particularly awful deed done in the name of customer service.

You don’t always get past the wall of indifference. Most times you can. With a little practice you can despatch the “S’not my fault” defence by reassuring them that you are sure they understand the notion of corporate responsibility and collective responsibility and that you have nothing against them personally.  You can deal with the “ I’m at lunch” or the “It’s not my department” defence by adopting a winning smile enlisting their support to find the correct person to talk to  before you do so yourself,  and how you won’t forget to include their particular contribution. 

Of course you have to speak at the right level. This is not patronising. It just recognises that the appalling state of the company’s training that has led to your present position cannot be expected to be a lone event and that it is very likely to be endemic throughout the organisation.

The appropriate level of indignation and damaged hurt is important. Many years ago I fell off my chair when a righteous young man agreed to sit down to discuss his howling letter of complaint and unbelievable state of distress with my senior manager.  I was the witness and noted the professional calming tones “ Now Mr Smith, you’re an intelligent man...” . I just wasn’t ready for the assertive  “Ex-actly!” that came straight back.

So we should complain. We should maintain a standard of indignation when faced with appalling service.  We should hold people to account.  If it’s too expensive we should say so and be prepared to go elsewhere. Demand to see the manager if you get nowhere with the service operative.

There is no need to make a fuss and show everyone up. That only shows you up. Leave them room to be sorry while you receive with gracious acceptance along with the refund.

On the company side there is much ground and superb reputation to be made with a complaint handled effectively.  Politeness and efficient dealing is worth its weight in repeat business. As a manager if it is remotely reasonable, back up your employee’s first response before graciously saying you will override the rules to put right the supposed offence.  Results - customer happy they have been dealt with properly at a senior level, employee happy that they were vindicated in their response, you with extra seniority points. Next always explain to the employee afterwards what you have done and why. Result - respect shown and rules reinforced. 

Always leave room for a complaint to be escalated in the mind of the customer. Even if it is not so, the effect is the same. I once had an employee who was wonderfully capable of hobnobbing in such a way that some of the customers thought he was the manager. A number of complaints were headed off at the pass by this capable fellow. No need for seniority, it was all in the manner.

Training in Complaints Handling should not be cynical. It is a vital part of the service. Keeping a customer is much easier than getting a new one. The Manager/Boss/Director/ Supervisor can enhance the company’s relationships with its customers just by taking a little time to listen and then following up the complaint and the actions taken. 

Never forget to follow through the undoing of the original cause of the complaint. That wrong invoice may have a diary note for a final demand that would undo all the repair work at one stroke. That wrong address may have been recorded on another record as well.

You may be wondering what was the spark for this article?  Actually several sparks lately have made me wonder if it is me being unreasonable.  I end up with the thought that I just do not see why they should get away with it! Who are they? For the time being that remains confidential. The final trump card in my hand is the publicity card. So powerful .

If you want training and coaching for your staff, arrange time with a professional consultant. Are all your customers coming back or are they going elsewhere? It could be so much better.

Talk to Bob Shepherd Associates 

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