Three things you shouldn’t say to your customers

My husband and I made our annual pilgrimage to Helsinki to celebrate Finnish independence day, and I decided to book us into a hotel chain that we don’t usually use, just to have a different experience.  With fantastic views, pretty decent reviews and an uber-cool cocktail lounge, we were looking forward to a fabulous weekend.

Having not been to Finland for a few months, I’d forgotten that customer service, and the soft skills associated with delivering good service are not consistent across the board, and in many cases are still a work in progress amongst our customer service colleagues in Finland.

Whilst there is lots and lots of examples of excellent customer service in Finland, I felt that as my final blog post for the year, I might just highlight a handful of the less than ideal experiences I had at aforementioned hotel, as a reminder for all of us.  As you head off for your festive break, look out for each of these four points, and see how they make you feel!

Don’t start by telling the customer what you can’t do – when I phoned up to make a request of the hotel in advance, the receptionist advised that my request was not possible, that is not the way the hotel works.  This immediately left me feeling frustrated and unloved.  Bizarrely, the receptionist then went on to confirm that they could deliver on my request, but that it would be done in a slightly different way!  So had I used the hotel’s own way of requesting, the receptionist would not have declined my request.

Clearly this is silly – if a customer uses the wrong words, but you understand what they want, why decline the request, then say yes in a different way?  Rather than responding directly to a customer’s question in the literal sense, it’s always better to understand the customer-desired outcome, and respond to that request.

Don’t interrupt a customer to correct them on a minor detail – whilst eating breakfast at the hotel, we noticed that the dining area was really crowded.  It’s a very busy weekend in Finland, with lots of people visiting family and friends, so it is to be expected.  Nevertheless, getting to the tea and coffee was like being in a rugby scrum, and arriving at the front, there was a distinct lack of cups.  I commented to a staff member that there were no cups, despite there being plenty of people waiting.  The staff member “helpfully” replied back that there were plenty of cups, but they were probably in the kitchen area.

There’s a bit of a cultural element here (Finnish people are very accurate in the statements), but why correct me?  Instead, the staff member could have gone to get some cups, or at least reassured me that some would arrive imminently.  By giving me a factually accurate, but somewhat pedantic response, the staff member did themselves a disservice.  Rather than correct a customer, or talk over them, understand what the customer needs and seek a solution before making a comment.

Don’t respond to a complaint by refuting each item raised by the customer – After our stay, as always, I completed the online survey sent from the hotel.  I shared some good feedback (amazing house-keeping staff), and some areas of learning.  I was suitably impressed when the hotel actually replied to my email within 24 hours.  What was less impressive was the way the hotel responded.  Rather than acknowledging my concerns, whether correct or not, the hotel chose to address each individual comment by refuting anything they considered negative.

If there is one sure fire way to rub a customer up the wrong way, it’s to ask for their feedback, then tell them they are wrong!  Rather than tell the customer they are wrong, acknowledge their concern, thank them for feeding back, and only correct a misconception if it really matters.

All of the above are minor niggles, which in themselves have no major impact on the overall customer experience.  But when more than one small matter combines with another, the effect can sometimes become distorted.  Was it a perfectly pleasant stay at the hotel?  For sure!  Will we stay there again?  I’ve actually already booked us back into the usual hotel, where I know what to expect, so no, I probably wouldn’t stay there again.

Once you’re back at work, you may want to review your own experience.  Do any of your processes and procedures drive your people to talk to customers in this way?  Does your business frustrate customers by treating the as children, or not listening to them?  2019 might just be the year for you to eliminate these pain points once and for all.  Wishing everyone and happy and safe break over the festive period!

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