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Real Example: 5 out of 5 Failure by a Manager Handling a Complaint Escalation

Without naming names, there's a major grocery retailer has a few stores that really stand out.   One's in the MidWest and it's a massive multi experience store — Sports Bar, Coffee Shop, Wine Bar, Burger Diner (all with dedicated seating and great experiences).

It’s a place where they seem to encourage customers to come and hang-out, have a great experience and get more connected with the brand. So to my surprise, I witnessed one the worst examples of non-customer centric behavior I have ever seen — from a store manager no less. 

The 5 DO NOTs of Complaint Handling:

He did them all:

  1. Blaming the customer for the problem they're complaining about
  2. Deflecting by making excuses or pointing to overall successes
  3. Saying "no one else has complained"
  4. Refusing to facilitate an escalation to a higher manager
  5. Acting condescending and passive aggressive toward the customer
They're especially wrong because it shows a lack of understanding of what a real win is (for the company) in these types of situations.

Defining the "win"

There's two parts to the real win in customer complaints and it never results from winning the argument.  That's never a real win.

Win #1: The Data Point: an emotional customer will give you a lot of data -- about themselves and how they perceive your company.  So you've now got a clearer picture of a specific customer segment

Win #2: Detractor to Promoter: That emotion that seems like its your worst enemy is actually powerful if you handle the complaint properly.  It can be channelled into a promoter situation or at the very least the transformation of a detractor voice.

Seeing it done well makes the failures very obvious

I know when a manager fails because I’ve seen it done well.

There are 3 parts to the equation:

  • listening well and not appearing to respond on autopilot or worse having a precanned answer
  • never blaming or attacking the customer
  • capturing the opportunity to create an promoter from a detractor

As a top level escalation point myself (as COO of a cloud company with 10,000 B2B customers, I learned many lessons over the course of 1000’s of escalations over 8 years in the role.  Here are some of the less obvious ones:

Management escalation create brand impressions

 Staff level interactions are transactional but management creates a brand impression.  How a manager deals with a complaint speaks to the DNA of an organization and customers get cues about what to expect long term from the organization.   Here are a few customer quotes that tell you how significant it is:

 “if this is how management responds to complaints, how do you expect employees to be trained”

 “it looks like the customer comes last here”

 "with someone like that running the place, what’s going to change over the long term”

The collarbone effect

Emotional customer interactions may seem like a bad thing but they’re often a huge opportunity.  One of the biggest diseases facing companies is a lack of emotion in the customer relationships.  Promoters are by definition emotionally driven.  There in lies the collarbone analogy (a broken collarbone it heals back stronger than it ever was).

Fluctuating Power Over Customers

Businesses go through phases and at times they will have tremendous power in their customer relationships.  The mistake is thinking that is something that allows a non customer centric approach. 

Here are 3 reasons not to approach things that way:

1. The power position is never permanent — there are few impenetrable competitive barriers to entry — especially in retail.

2. DNA evolves through the earlier phases of a business and it’s extraordinarily difficult to change later after the organization has grown and solidified.

 3. Business is about maximization — product power and customer centric operations will allow even more dramatic growth.  

Lost Assets

Simply put, “poor is poor” when it comes to customer experience (there’s no sugar coating it or excuse for it). Not just from the customer perspective but even more so from the company's perspective. Brand perception, lost promoter opportunities and even lost chances to understand customers better are all key lost assets.

Jul 30, 2015  

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It's impossible for companies to focus on the 'easy' market segments (ie. non millenials) and get comfortable with a less than competitive product or service offering. 

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