Serving Customers When Pain Is Involved

15478583718_bd0a3d4284_zThe Cincinnati Zoo is forced to shoot a rare gorilla that potentially threatened a boy who had fallen into the gorilla cage. Disney World lost a 2-year old guest to an alligator in an on-property lagoon. A massive hurricane put the local utility company in its bull’s eye. All these tragedies involve customer pain. And, all such incidents risk leaving customers with a foul taste about the business in the context regardless of their culpability.

While some glitches are rare massive tragedies, most are just bad-luck hiccups. All customers face occasional foul-tasting aspects of getting service. Doctors have emergencies that leave you stranded “forever” in the reception area; airlines have cancelled flights; hotels have room keys that occasionally don’t work; and popular restaurants have longer-than-normal waits at peak times. Smart service providers find ways to turn misfortune into magic. Here are four approaches to consider:

Show Confident and Compassionate Agility

 Restoring customer confidence is a key part of any service recovery. Confident, compassionate agility includes words and actions that tell customers they are dealing with someone who has the moves and moxie to fix their problem or resolve their issue. They want can-do competence, attentive urgency, and take-charge “I’ll turn this around” attitude. Service failure first and foremost robs customers of the confidence they have in an organization. Yet that confidence is quickly restored if customers observe you moving nimbly to address their problem.

One secret to this step is letting customers see your healing efforts. Simply telling them, “Wait in the reception area and I’ll work on your problem” may seem like a polite approach. But it strips the customer of the chance to see you in action. Let the customer hear you call a peer and say, “George, we have a problem we need to work on ASAP.” Let the customer see you walk faster, move more quickly, act more concerned.

Find a Way to Bring a Sense of Joy

When my business partner and I exited the Hertz courtesy van at the Hartford airport, the below-freezing winter wind bit hard. But, the Hertz attendant had a warm smile and an eager-to-help attitude. “This is way too cold!” one of us commented. She almost giggled. “Now, you guys know, in Hartford we do weather as entertainment!” Ten miles down the road we were still laughing at her unexpected comment. What can you do to make service maladies seem more palatable to your customers?

Sometimes humor can send a message that “we don’t take this seriously.” Perish the thought! However, if there is a way to bring comic relief to an otherwise anxious moment, it can allay the pain and leave customers confident that they have a trusted partner at the helm. A Southwest Airlines plane made an especially hard landing in a cross wind as it came into an airport. As the jet raced down the runway passengers overheard the pilot over the intercom saying, “Whoa, big fellow, whoa!” His comical retort completely erased the memory of the harder-than-normal landing.

Let Customers “Count Cows”

Counting cows was a backseat game parents used years ago to quell the endless “Are we there yet?” queries from their children. The rules were simple: each person took one side of the car when the journey began. One point was given for every cow you saw on your side; five points for every horse, and if a graveyard appeared on your side, you lost all your points and had to start over. Active participation in a simple, competitive game made the car trip seem shorter.

Today’s customers are as impatient as youngsters on a long car trip. But, there is a way to quell their annoyance with slow service. Let your customers “count cows”!   Look for ways to help them put up with a delay. Just as Disney World entertains guests who are waiting in line to board that special ride, entertain your customers in an engaging yet appropriate way. Is there a way you can make getting service seem faster by turning the wait into a compelling game? How about a clever contest? A social gathering? How can you manage the customer’s perception of service speed as you work to improve its reality?

Finally, Show Off Your Best Generosity

Special touches in times of worry and anxiety make the Marriott Rivercenter in San Antonio a hotel tcustomers love. A business traveler was awaiting the arrival of her husband and son for a weekend getaway after a long business conference. The two were delayed by severe weather in Dallas, which she happened to mention to a hotel staffer. To her surprise, the frontline staffer had milk and cookies sent to her room as soon as the two weary travelers finally arrived at 10 p.m. “That simple, unexpected, gesture of milk and cookies was a welcome surprise,” she says. “It turned a very worrisome evening into a very pleasant memory.”

All customer service has its “not so fun” parts. Stand in your customers’ shoes and consider what would soothe anxious feelings. Be a strong steward of your customer’s emotional bank account by depositing resourcefulness, joy, patience, and generosity.

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