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When Hospitality is Not Hospitable. 5 Learnings for Every Industry

I had lunch last week with one of my ex-colleagues. We decided to try a new restaurant close to where she works. It’s only been open a month, and it shows. This hospitality outlet certainly has a lot to learn about customer centricity!

I was able to share our “adventure” with the proprietor when his manager (naively?) asked us if we had enjoyed our lunch. I don’t think she expected all the comments we made. However, she quickly called the owner over, who was extremely interested in listening. He heard our detailed description of our time there with patience and encouragement, asking lots of questions as our tale unfolded.

I therefore, thought I’d share our experiences as they are useful lessons for anyone who wants to be more customer centric. Whether you are in hospitality or not, putting the customer first makes good business sense.

 

Restaurant arrival

Welcome your customersThe restaurant is situated in a new shopping precinct and therefore still has to increase its awareness and make a name for itself. This is important, as many of the issues we had should have been sorted out during the first month since they opened.

It was a warm, sunny day and the restaurant had two attractive terraces laid out for lunch. No-one was there to greet us, so we went inside and asked to be seated. I should mention that we were relatively early and only three other tables out of the more than 40 were occupied.

The Maitre d’ showed us to a small table for two, squashed between other larger tables. When I asked if we could have another table on the edge of the terrace, my request was met with disapproval. The restaurant was not full  and they obviously didn’t expect to be on this midweek lunchtime. Only about a half of the tables were laid out for lunch. I therefore, requested again that he accommodate our desire. He grudgingly accepted, adding that we’d have to move if someone else wanted the table! Of course we would!

 

Our order

As we sat down the maitre d’ asked if we would like an aperitive. We said no, but I ordered sparkling water and my friend still water. One of the waiters quickly came back but with a liter bottle of sparkling water. Being thirsty, my friend graciously accepted to drink the sparkling water. In fact, it was poured out before she could say anything.

I hadn’t seen my friend in many months, so we had a lot to discuss and catch up on. Therefore not surprisingly we took time to choose amongst the multitude of dishes, which were all new to us. Our final choice was not facilitated by the menu being on a tablet. It was already difficult to read outdoors. In addition reviewing and deciding amongst the many dishes involved multiple clicks. We had to skip back and forwards to make our choice amongst the many different and somewhat arbitrary subgroups.

Customer choiceIf only someone had thought about their clients’ needs, the menu would have been laid out far more logically. (>>Tweet this<<) For example, the subgroups included both main and starters displayed together and were based upon ingredients.

This meant going up and down each subgroup until one had an idea of what were the choices for starter or the main dish. As if that wasn’t confusing enough, there were also daily specials listed on a separate tab!

One of the advantages of using a digital menu is that it can be changed with the click of a button. There is therefore, no reason for this complex system – unless it was designed to ensure every client saw every dish.

From our perspective, it just made for a frustrating waste of time. Lunches are generally pretty time sensitive and we only have a limited window to eat out and return to work on time.

Our meal presentation

Customer satisfaction is primeAfter the mishap over the water, we were not really surprised when the wrong main course dishes were presented to us. Or rather mine was correct but my friend’s was not what she ordered. Instead of removing the two dishes, mine was left in the sun – a salad! – while hers was sent back to the kitchen. Ten minutes later her dish arrived and again was not what she had ordered!

By this time we had finished our starters and my salad was getting warm. So my friend pointed out the mistake but again graciously accepted the dish. (I should mention that she is a lovely lady and far more forgiving than I would have been!)

 

Our bill and payment

As the meal had taken rather longer than we had planned, we were keen to leave as soon as we had finished. We asked for the bill, twice, only to be presented ten minutes later with what looked like a credit card, but no explanation. Five minutes of h and-waving finally got someone to explain what to do with it.

Customers queueing to payThey apparently have a shop associated with the restaurant and therefore encourage people to visit it before paying. Thus no bill for just the meal! The idea of offering for sale everything we had just eaten might be a good one, time will tell, but it did not facilitate our departure.

Luckily one of the more experienced waitresses offered to show us where to pay – in the shop! This was neither expected nor obvious as it is hidden from the view of those in the restaurant.

I can only imagine the joy of queueing up behind shoppers after a meal! I certainly don’t want to st and in a queue to pay; I want someone to come to my table for this.

 

Our discussion with the owner

Listen to your customersAs I previously mentioned, we were lucky enough to get the chance to share all our experiences with the owner. He was most apologetic and gave us a hefty discount.

However, what I appreciated even more, was the chance to share our experiences, to help this new restaurant to quickly improve. He is a true professional and asked many questions about what had happened, to better identify where improvements could be made.

 

Underst anding the problem

The hospitality industry is both simple and complex for customer centricity improvements. Simple because you get direct feedback from your clients through their choices and comments. Complex because it is like a show and different people have differing perspectives and preferences. That is why restaurants have menus. But they need to be laid out for ease of choice rather than for ease of cooking or stock taking.

Where every business is similar, is in the fact that the customer has expectations which must be met to satisfy, and surpassed to delight. (>> Tweet this<<) Which do you aim to do?

In the case of this restaurant, I believe the main issue came from the staff who had been hired. They were clearly inexperienced or had not had explained to them the importance of the customer. Perhaps their previous jobs were in a local bistro, which might explain their lack of attention to detail. The restaurant is perhaps in rural  surroundings but the owner is definitely highly experienced and professional. He has a long learning curve to make with his staff for them to be at his level. He’d better make it happen sooner rather than later. Customers rarely go back to a restaurant – or br and for that matter – when there is so much choice today.

Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group is famously quoted as saying:

“Take care of your employees and they’ll take care of your business”

This is certainly true for the hospitality industry, but less so for many other businesses in my opinion. For many companies, I believe that the customer has to come first. What do you think?

 

Learnings for everyone

  1. Hospitality needs to be hospitable, but so does any customer facing business. Everyone feels self-conscious when entering into a new environment. Make it easy for them to feel at home. Welcome your customer as a good friend or even family. (>>Tweet this>>) Apple and Walmart are outst anding in this, and both Samsung and Staples announced new ways of welcoming more people into their stores.
  2. When your customers speak, listen (>>Tweet this<<). In our restaurant experience, none of the staff really listened, let alone tried to underst and our situation. Putting yourself in your customers’ shoes – literally – is a great way to better underst and them.
  3. Make it as easy as possible for your customer to choose you. (>>Tweet this<<) Are your different line extensions easy to recognise? Can your customer quickly choose between the different variants? Do you have too many br and names and sub-br and differentiators? I know of some br ands that have five to seven on one pack! Three should be the absolute maximum. Brogan & Partners wrote a great piece on sub-br anding you can read HERE.
  4. Make it as easy to pay. Once a customer has made the choice to buy what you have to offer, payment shouldn’t be a further pain point. According to a Business Intelligence report over 70% of online carts are ab andoned. While you can’t walk out of a store without paying, you can leave without buying! (>>Tweet this<<)
  5. Welcome criticism and comments as the gifts they are. (>>Tweet this<<) The only way to learn and correct your mistakes is by knowing about them! Don’t manipulate satisfaction levels to meet your objectives. Attain them by truly satisfying and delighting your customers.

These are all obvious steps to being customer centric but sometimes we get so caught up in our br and that we forget about the customer. Which of these five is your weakest point and what are you doing about it?

The 7 Ways to Deliver Awesome Customer Service

How can some companies get customer service so wrong?!

This week I have a longer post than usual, but one that will make you smile, if not laugh out loud.

It describes one recent personal example of disinterested client support, from which I have drawn seven learnings for everyone wanting to deliver true customer service.

I can’t understand why any organisation would still have trouble offering superior customer service when there are so many great examples they merely have to copy. (JetBlue, Sainsbury’s, Amazon, Zappos) In fact, Mark Earls wrote a great book on exactly this topic, called “ Copy, Copy, Copy” which is highly recommended.

My story this week is just one example of how some companies still struggle to accept that the customer is right, even when they’re wrong! Not that in this case I was wrong (at least I don’t think so, but I’ll let you be the judge of that).

However, they certainly gave me the impression that they believed I might have been trying to cheat them in the information I provided in my emails. They were never satisfied with what I sent, even when it was what THEY had specifically requested!

Perhaps they were just dragging out the process in the hope of not having to “pay up”. You can see for yourself below, or just jump to the seven learnings at the end of the post, so that you can avoid making the same mistakes yourself.

 

BACKGROUND:

Many years ago I bought a TomTom guidance system to help me navigate the streets of American cities. Although I love to drive  and feel just as much at home on a ten-lane LA highway as the two-lane Swiss autoroute system, I decided it was time to stop making so many impromptu visits to unplanned US destinations!

A few years on, I thought that it could also help me in Europe, even Switzerl and, when trying to locate a new client or contact. (My car is almost fifteen years old  and isn’t equipped with a GPS) I, therefore, added Europe to my online account, since my unit couldn’t keep both in memory at the same time!

Last May I replaced the European maps by my Amercian ones as I was visiting Florida that month. When I tried to reinstall the European maps in September, they had somehow disappeared from my account. I contacted TomTom customer service to ask how I could get my maps back and this is how our conversation went over the pursuing three months – with their worst English mistakes removed or corrected for better comprehension, but their own font bolding left in. (!)

 

THE EXCHANGE WITH TOMTOM:

Me: Hi there, I contacted you in May about changing from European to US maps. I now want to change back and the maps are no longer on my account! Help please!!!”

TomTom“Dear Denyse, … As per your account details (…), I am sorry to inform you that, I could not see any map of Europe being active on the account in the past. Hence, I am unable to see any European map details. Hence, if the map had come pre-installed with the device, I request you to please provide me the picture of the box (front face of the box) so that I can activate it on your account. If you had purchased the map of Europe, then please provide me the scanned copy of the purchase receipt of the map so that I can activate it…” (We already exchanged a few months previously and anyway didn’t they READ my email?!)

Me: Here attached please find the invoice concerning my purchase.”

TomTom:Denyse, many apologies, but it seems the purchase invoice is not attached in the correct format since I am unable to open it. Hence, I request you to please send me the scanned copy of purchase receipt in PDF format so that I will be able to view it and help you accordingly.” (They can’t open an email with an image?! OK well it’s true it wasn’t in pdf format!!!)

Me:Apologies for my delay in responding but I have been busy with trips – without my TomTom! As requested, I attach a PDF of the invoice.”

TomTom: Denyse, I would require the purchase receipt of the map of Europe that must have been provided to you after you purchased it. If you are unable to find the receipt of the map, please provide me the picture of the box (front face of the box) to check the device details.”

Me: Please find enclosed the invoice for the Europe maps that have disappeared from my account after replacing them with the US ones for a trip…”

TomTom: Denyse, we are unable to find the invoice of the map on the attached documents. I would request you to take a screen shot of the entire invoice or the part which has the order number and the date of purchase and the details of purchase.” (They can’t read the email THEY sent to me and now want a screen shot!)

MeThis is already what I attached to my previous email. Here it is again.”

TomTom: Denyse, the attachment that you are sending us is the screen shot of the email that you have received from TomTom. I would request you to send us the invoice which is sent as an attachment in PDF format with the email. Kindly download the invoice on your computer and while replying to this email, please attach the PDF file on your reply.” (Isn’t a screen shot what they asked for?!!)

Me: Is TomTom just trying to irritate a long-standing customer? I have replied to each email with the requested information  and each time you come back asking for a different format. You have the order number, the date, the item and the relevant item code of the maps I purchased directly from you online; what difference does the format of the document have? This is how the attachment appears on a Mac, which obviously you are not aware of, so I resend you the attachment as a pdf.”

This last exchange seemed to wake them up! Finally, they accepted that they had all the information they needed to confirm that I had indeed purchased the European maps, so they could once again reactivate them!

It took three months to get what I had requested, which could easily have been shortened to about three minutes if their customer services had had access to our previous email exchange – I am here assuming that they didn’t, because otherwise I would be extremely “disappointed”.

 

THE SEVEN LEARNINGS:

This is a great case study, as it shows numerous errors that so many organisations are still making in terms of customer care. These are the takeaways that you might want to consider in order to avoid similar long drawn-out – and resource-wasting – exchanges with your own customers.

  1. The customer is right and has a valid request.  This should always be assumed until such time as it is proven otherwise. After all, this is the premise of the legal systems in many countries and for good reason. However, an article in the Huffington Post last year questioned this well-known customer service quote, first coined in 1909 by Harry Gordon Selfridge, the founder of Selfridge’s department store in London. In today’s fast-paced world, I believe that a customer’s satisfaction should always come first; comment below if you disagree.
  1. Respond as quickly as possible; time is of the essence in helping the customer to perceive the incident as positively as possible, especially after a negative experience with a product or service. According to Forrester Customers want companies to value their time. Customers want companies to value their time. #CEX #CRM #Customers Click To Tweet 71% of consumers say that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to provide them with good service.
  2. Take action just as soon as you have the minimum information that will enable you to do this. According to the 2002 Mobius Poll, 84% of customers are frustrated when a representative does not have immediate access to their account information. If you need further details to complete your files, they can be gathered from your happy and satisfied customer once a solution has been found. They will also be in a better frame of mind to answer any other questions you might want to ask.
  3. It is important to ensure that your care center personnel speak and write the language of the customer as fluently as possible. In the above case, it is clear that the responses are from an offshore country using standard scripts. This does not make the customer feel important let alone cared for and in my case, frustrated that I was not being listened to or understood.
  4. Give your customer services personnel authority to respond appropriately to most requests, without the need for escalation or verification with managers. Give your customer services personnel authority to respond appropriately to most requests, without the need for escalation #CRM #CEX #CustomerService Click To Tweet Working to “standard” procedures for every case, often delays the customer getting full satisfaction as quickly as possible.
  5. Even when the issue is resolved, the customer can still be left with a negative feeling about the whole experience, especially if it has taken considerable time and effort on their side. And remember that it is likely that they will share their negative experiences with far more people than they would have done, had the incident been dealt with in a speedier fashion. (See James Digbys original post and the updated statistics on customer satisfaction online)
  6. Aim to surprise and delight not just satisfy your customers. Although your customers may be looking for the resolution of a problem when they first reach out to you, there is an opportunity for you to surprise and delight them with much more. If they complain about a damaged product, don’t just replace it, provide a complementary sample of another product or a discount coupon for them to purchase it. If they are unhappy with your service, offer an immediate discount and not just a rebate on future services. The latter can be perceived by the customer as their being pressurised into a further purchase, something they are unlikely to be ready to do at the time of the exchange. According to McKinsey’s “ The moment of truth in customer service” 70% of buying experiences are based on how the customer feels they are being treated. Make them feel great!

So these are the seven learnings that I took away from this incident. Basic? Yes sure, but instead of just saying to yourself “I know this” ask yourself “Do we do this – always?”. It is surprising how many of the basic elements we forget to check as we advance in experience, and years!

If you have other examples of frustratingly poor but easily resolved customer service mistakes then please share them below. We all need a laugh from time to time, and learnings from others are so useful in helping us avoid making the same mistakes ourselves.

If you would be interested in joining a webinar on any of the topics listed then please add a comment below. We will be sending out invitations shortly.

Customer excellence roadmap in the book Winning customer centricityThis post includes concepts and images from Denyse’s book  Winning Customer Centricity. 

It is now available in Hardback, Paperback, EBook and AudioBook formats. You can buy a copy from our website here, as well as on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBook, iTunes and in all good bookstores. Discount codes are regularly published on our private  FaceBook Members group – why not ask to join?

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