Training & Development

Quint’s column: You can’t please all customers

Quint Studer at the public input sessions for the future Studer Community Institute building. Credit: Barrett McClean.

The goal to please all customers is noble. The reality is, there are times when there are customers who just won’t be pleased.

As a leader, I used to find myself saying common terms to staff like “we want to WOW every customer,” or “We want to knock their socks off.” I would notice the looks I would receive from the employees — sort of a “Please everyone? … Impossible!” look.

The data we had backed them up.

Even when the hospital I worked for had some of the very best patient satisfaction in the entire nation, about 6 percent of the patients rated their experience low. That feedback led me to change my stance and messaging to employees.

While our goal was to have highly satisfied people, I understood there are times when this is just not possible. This has been reinforced over the years as I have had customers seek me out with a complaint with no conceivable solution to be had. No amount of service recovery will satisfy.

One example: Years ago, I was very involved in a large community project. I hired a company to do a poll. This company measured, with data, the amount negativity in a community, using a question that they felt the clear majority of people would answer in a positive manner. Still, the national average was about 22 percent of a community would still respond negatively. If heaven announced it was being relocated to their city, these 22 percent would protest the fact is was a gated community.

So, what do you do when your customer service, then your service recovery tactics, have deemed pleasing a customer impossible?

Here are some steps in dealing with difficult customers.

— Allow the unpleasable customer to vent. Of course, this does not mean accepting abusive language, etc. However, allowing this person to vent is the first step in moving the conversation toward a solution. When they are done, apologize for their displeasure with the company. This was particularly difficult for people in healthcare. You are not saying the person is right, but, you can apologize that that is the perception they gathered. The goal is to show you do care about how they feel and understand they are a customer.

— Put yourself in their shoes. You want people to show you respect and take their opinion seriously. Explain the why behind a policy they may not agree with. Offer to help them navigate the system if that will help resolve the issue. Don’t hand them off to someone else, hand them over. This means staying with them until they get the best person and make the introduction. This can be done in person, over the phone or in e-mail. Each situation is different. The goal is to move them to the next step.

— Solve the problem as quickly as possible. Ask them “what would you like to have happen?” While people can be afraid of this, it works way more often than you think. A loss of a few dollars can be much better than someone out in the community or on social media causing image issues for the company. If they are complaining in front of people, move them to a quiet area so you can hear them better. While they still may be upset about the situation, you want them to feel better about how you are treating the complaint. When handled right, this can not only be a chance to make this customer change his or her tune, but to create a repeat customer when the prospect looked impossible.

There are those times when all you can do is the best you can do. Spend the amount time with the difficult customer that you feel is logical. Then move on. Don’t let the difficult customer take up so much time, it creates more unhappy customers.

Separate as best you can the person from the complaint if the person is expressing his or herself in a negative way. I received a complaint from a person after they had left a Wahoo game. The e-mail was quite angry. They had attended their first Blue Wahoos game. This was in our fifth season. They had come to watch a person they knew throw out the first pitch. The paper said the game started at 6:35 p.m. and they got there about 6:20 p.m., and because of that, they had missed their friend’s first pitch. “Why did the Wahoos not say the first pitch would be moved up earlier?” he wrote.

At that moment, it was evident there was confusion between whether this person would get the chance to throw a “ceremonial” first pitch and the “actual” first pitch of the competitive baseball game.

My first reaction was to ignore the letter – I thought most people should know the ceremonial first pitch is not the regular first pitch. However, after about 15 minutes, I revisited the situation.

Since that day, we now publicize the time pre-game activities start including the ceremonial first pitches. Try to separate what is being said from the how it is being said.

Difficult customers exist in all businesses. What we can do is our best to defuse and fix the situation, even when that feels impossible.