Complaining Vs. Whining

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Man Buying ClothesI believe that the ability to be a salesman is innate.  You’re born with it or you’re not.  I come from a family that could sell a red popsicle to a socialite dressed in a couture white sundress.  Because of this ability to make people feel welcomed, cared for, and a priority, I always found myself working in retail.  I worked the customer service desk at Marshalls when I was 15 years-old and as assistant manager of a sneaker store at 18 years-old.  My retail career ended only a couple of years ago to focus on my career in PR.  What I learned from working in retail and handling customers has always translated  into my daily work as a PR professional.

Recently I came across an interesting article by Sarah Nassauer for the New York Times, “I Hate My Room,’ The Traveler Tweeted. Ka-Boom! An Upgrade!” The article discussed how customer service is changing now that we have a million eyes at our finger tips.  This isn’t new information as we all know that a company’s reputation can be hurt by a simple tweet, status update, Flickr image, YouTube upload, or TripAdvisor review.  And that’s only naming a few of the various platforms we use on a daily basis.  In the article a guest tweeted about his unsatisfactory room.   The front desk employee was watching and immediately went into damage control offering an upgrade.  Kudos to the front desk for monitoring the social network.  But does every guest that complains/whines about service need to receive compensation or a resolution?

Working in retail we learn that the customer is always right.  This is pretty similar in PR.  In the travel industry we stress the importance of interacting on social networks, especially with guests.  Every guests wants to know they are being heard even more so when in a situation that should be rectified.  However this is relevant for all industries and unfortunately it’s not realistic for every person that complains to receive an upgrade or even correspondence.   Shocking I know.

Curious what others thought, I asked around and here are some comments I received:

  • Rich Pulvino: Quality customer service doesn’t differentiate between valid complaints and the whiners b/c customer should be #1 priority.  You need to prioritize the complaints and see if the resolutions are reasonable/feasible/doable
  • TJ Dietderich: If someone can help, that’s valuable customer service.  If there is NOTHING that can be done and someone is just venting = whining.
  • Jeff Esposito: Its good for customer service, however you can’t help everyone who complains with upgrades as it is not sustainable for hotels

These are all great points that lead back to the importance of qualifying a complaint.  When in this sort of situation decide what action steps need to be taken and what compensation/resolution can you give that is feasible for your company.  Although no one will readily admit this, also look at where the complaint is coming from.  Unfortunately I don’t believe the Southwest debacle would’ve been as big of a deal if it wasn’t for Kevin Smith having a big influence on his community.

So how do you treat these situations for your companies?  How do you train employees and associates on managing and responding to customers to give valuable customer service?

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  • http://twitter.com/AmandaOleson Amanda Oleson

    Excellent points, Stina. I worked in retail for eight years myself- and I found that more often than not, customers just wanted to be heard. Complainers don’t always want their items for free/discounted, (although that never hurt, in my experience) they sometimes just want to bring an issue they noticed/had to someone’s attention. When dealing with customer service issues, it’s important to be sure to listen to what the customer is saying to you before jumping to give them something free.

  • http://twitter.com/kionsanders Kion Sanders

    Excellent post, Christina. I also worked in retail throughout high school and a little during college. It's where my passion for customer service developed.

    When guests/customers complain, companies should deal with them accordingly. Different consumers want different things. At the end of the shift/day, the consumer should walk away with a happy memory of the company. I know it isn't always realistic but companies should aim to please all of their consumers.

  • http://twitter.com/kionsanders Kion Sanders

    Excellent post, Christina. I also worked in retail throughout high school and a little during college. It's where my passion for customer service developed.

    When guests/customers complain, companies should deal with them accordingly. Different consumers want different things. At the end of the shift/day, the consumer should walk away with a happy memory of the company. I know it isn't always realistic but companies should aim to please all of their consumers.

  • http://twitter.com/BrandiNeloms Brandi N. Neloms

    My cousin is a beautician and she asked my opinion on how she handled a customer's complaint. Long story short… a customer wasn't satisfied with her false lashes and my cousin offered to give the customer her money back. My question was did the customer want her money back? Maybe she wanted her lashes redone or fixed. Maybe she wanted you to apologize and offer a future discount. Did simply giving her money back and leaving her with a bad lash job fix her problem? Not in my opinion.

    If you offer an upgrade (or whatever the like would be in another industry) to every customer who complains you may not be solving the root issue, and you set the expectation that any customer who complains gets an upgrade.

    But I have to admit, I'd love it if my tweets were powerful enough to get me free stuff, upgrades and discounts :)

    Great post!

  • http://twitter.com/AmandaOleson Amanda Oleson

    Excellent points, Stina. You're right on in saying that customer complaints need to be qualified. I worked in retail for eight years myself, and I found that more often than not, complainers really just wanted to be heard. Often times, I found that it wasn't necessary to offer discounts or give people their money back – they just wanted to bring a situation to my attention, and have me LISTEN to what they had to say. (And apologize.) Providing great customer service can be tricky, and I think it's important to remember that (like a lot of things in life) you can't just throw money and free stuff at people to rectify all situations.

  • http://twitter.com/rpulvino Rich Pulvino

    I worked with customers for four years as a video store clerk. Some complaints were legit: “The DVD is broken,” “The wrong movie is inside,” and other stuff along those lines. Those are concerns that were directly related to our product and services, so it became our responsibility to solve those problems.

    Then you had other complaints: “I hated this movie,” “I didn't have time to watch it,” and so on. All I could offer in those instances was an “I'm sorry.” That response to those complaints pissed off a lot of people, but in those situations, that was the best I could offer.

  • http://twitter.com/BrandiNeloms Brandi N. Neloms

    I agree with your point, Rich. Customer service isn't one size fits all. Solutions should be based on the severity/validity of the complaint/issue. Otherwise, people will complain just to get what they want without there actually being a problem.

    I guess the customer isn't always right after all, huh?

  • OnlinePRNews

    While out to dinner this weekend, I tried a new menu item. I didn't like it. It was cooked okay — but I found it to be fairly tasteless and boring. When the waitress brought us our bill and asked how the food was, my husband kind of nudged me and I very nicely explained that the item was not my favorite. It wasn't a big complaint by any means — I phrased it more along the lines of “I think your chef might need to tweak this one a bit more…” but she immediately came back with another bill and had removed the charge for my meal.

    It was completely unexpected. Really! I was really impressed and it pretty much guarantees that we will return to try something else (perhaps a signature dish?) at another time.

    Basically, I always try to treat every single customer as if they are already someone you know.

    At our business, if the complaint stems from a user-error on their end, usually having us jump in promptly and straighten things out is enough. If it warrants something bigger — like a discount on a future package — we always encourage our editors to do so.

    Usually how you handle customer complaints will determine whether or not you are creating rabid fans loyal to your brand or customers likely to be swayed by the competition.

    That being said, habitual complainers should not be rewarded. Trust me, we remember if you complain about something every time! lol — Tara

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