Dealing with disappointment

Oct 11 2010 by Andy Hanselman Print This Article

What do the phrases "Sort yourselves out!", '"When will you people listen?", "Shambles" and "Idiots" have in common? Apparently, according to the UK TV industry website, Broadcast, these are all warning signs that have been given to staff at the British TV Licensing authority to help them spot that customers aren't happy!

Dealing with disappointment is something that I believe differentiates customer focused businesses from others. It means that all employees are trained a) to spot disappointment, and b) to deal with it. So, I'm all for training and developing customer facing staff (and all staff for that matter!). But this really is an astonishing statement of the obvious.

Apparently, TV Licensing staff are being encouraged to spot key words that indicate customers are dissatisfied. These include: "compensation", "complaint", "disgraceful", "disgusted", "incompetent", "appalling", "furious", "intimidation", "mistakes", "harassment", "rude", "threatening", "outrageous", "upsetting", "unacceptable" and various swear words.

The guide also lists warning phrases, such as "I am extremely angry", "I demand an apology", "lack of courtesy", "your failure" and "I will sue".

Dealing with disappointment is something that all businesses need to get right, and maybe it's me, but if I heard one of my customers saying any of those things, I'd like to think I'd be able to spot that there was a problem without having to resort to a guide to tell me.

I've read that 70 per cent of people will do business with you again if you can resolve their problem or complaint, and this rises to over 90 per cent if it's done on the spot. Combine this with the fact that it costs between six and ten times more to sell to a new customer than an existing one, then dealing with disappointment is powerful stuff!

So here are 5 steps to consider when dealing with disappointment:

1. Acknowledge It!

A business that acknowledges that it got things wrong, particularly if it is out of character, and deals with it effectively, can often turn disappointment into delight. In other words, just because things go wrong, it doesn't mean you've lost that customer.

Acknowledging the problem can demonstrate that you actually care, and many will respond positively. In fact a real measure of the strength of your customer relationships is the size of 'cock up' you can make and still keep the business. (By the way, please don't take this as the key learning lesson from this article and test it to its limits!).

2. Empower For It!

As a result, the best businesses empower their people to deal with disappointment. I'm often sceptical about the word 'empowerment' because it's so over used, but in those businesses that do it properly, things get done when things go wrong.

Here's a simple test to see how empowered your people really are. How much can your people spend or authorise without having to come to senior management for 'permission'? For example, Ritz Carlton Hotels give everyone in their business authority to spend up to $2,000 to resolve a customer's problem or deal with a complaint on the spot without having to get permission from a manager. Now, THAT's empowerment!

3. Prepare For It!

What are the things that typically disappoint your customers? Why not get your people together and identify typical or regular problems, and then develop ideas and solutions to sort it out. Train them, put processes and systems to deal with disappointment.

Be careful with systemising things though. A friend of mine once got a lovely personalised letter apologising for a mistake he'd complained about to one company. The letter explained that it was very rare that this happened, that they couldn't understand how it had happened and that they were investigating thoroughly what had gone wrong.

But mistakenly attached to the letter was a photocopy of his original letter with 'send standard complaint reply letter' scrawled on it!!!

4. Look For It!

Instead of just dealing with disappointment, successful organisations look for it. They don't wait for complaints, they go out and find them! In fact, these businesses probably get more complaints than others because their people are actively asking for them.

It might seem weird, but the easier you are to complain to, the more customer focussed you're likely to be.

5. Just Deal With It!

So go on, you know it makes sense. Disappointment? Learn to look for it and deal with it!

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About The Author

Andy Hanselman
Andy Hanselman

Andy Hanselman helps businesses and their people think in 3D. That means being Dramatically and Demonstrably Different. An expert on business competitiveness, he has spent well over 20 years researching, working with, and learning from, successful fast growth businesses. His latest book, The 7 Characteristics of 3D Businesses, reveals how businesses can get ahead, and stay ahead of their competitors.