Complaining Vs. Whining

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?