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Shocking Recovery!

By Rick Tate

“I'm very impressed when, after the first time wasn't pleasant, the second time is exceptional.”

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In many ways I'm really surprised at myself. I find myself being drawn to and more loyal to those companies who have recovered from mistakes and handled my complaints in an excellent fashion than to any others. It's not that I enjoy situations where I have to complain or when there is a problem. But, possibly, it's such a relief to have a company deal with those situations in a positive manner that it makes the value of that company much higher than what it would normally be. Or maybe it's because the way many companies handle complaints isn't so great.

A Rat or a Mouse? Who Cares?

I remember another hotel experience. I was in my room, sitting on the bed reading a newspaper, when I noticed a rat scampering across the floor of the room. Concerned and moving to the center of the bed, I called the front desk and asked if I could change rooms. The clerk asked what the problem was, and I told her there was a rat in my room.

I'll never forget her response. "How big was it?" she asked. I was taken aback. (I guess they do come in sizes.) I asked if that really mattered. In a very terse tone of voice she replied, "Yes sir, it does. I can assure you this hotel does not have RATS!" Well I didn't think this was the time to debate rodent characteristics. I asked her what she thought I might have seen. She responded, "Sir, it was probably just a mouse."

Just a mouse, I thought. Well that makes all the difference in the world. I asked if we could agree that there was a big mouse in my room. With very little emotion at all, she said she would send someone up. Within two minutes two bell people arrived and helped me move to a new room. They were very polite and helpful. Upon returning later in the afternoon, I found a large basket of fruit, crackers and cheese (the cheese was probably an oversight) and a personally signed note of apology from the manager. Later that night I got a personal call from the night manager apologizing again.

However, while all that happened after the initial request was very positive, I was still angry and I'll never return. You see how the situation was handled at the first contact was so poor this hotel got no return for its subsequent recovery efforts. The clerk had to tell me I was wrong! Why? I don't know. Maybe she was just defending her company. Or perhaps she was right... the hotel had no rats. From my point of view...who cares? Rat, mouse, mule, moose or raccoon...there was an uninvited life form in my room, and I just wanted out.

Even though the specific incident with a rat in my room was an isolated event, the type of response I got from the complaint was not. Many attempts at recovery only offer the customer something tangible, a buy off. Yet, how people handle the situation is just as important, if not more so to me. It seems that in most cases when a problem arises or I complain, I get immediately put into a confrontational or uncomfortable position.

The Pain Of Complaining

First, many times there is a list of arbitrary rules I must have obeyed in order for my complaint to have any validity. Being asked if I have a sales receipt when the company name and price tag are in place seems silly. (I guess I could have stolen it...but then again if that were the case I figure a competent crook would say it was a present.) The 30 day rule is mind-blowing. What if I couldn't return it within 30 days? Does that make the satisfaction level or the problem I encounter any different? It must be to satisfy some internal accounting procedure because it certainly does not relate to my issue or possible future loyalty.

The questions like "What did you do to this?", "How many times has this been used?", "Did you follow the instructions?" "That's the way you order it!"...all seem to suggest that I caused the problem. I love the question, "Did you get that here?" Again, I have often wondered what the crook would say..."Oh no, I was just attempting to rip you off." It seems many of the hoops the customer must jump through are designed to either influence the customer not to bother to complain or to make the customer prove his or her complaint valid. And all to what end? It merely creates an adversary relationship which makes the customer want to do business somewhere else.

Second, I find that in many places it is very hard to complain. For whatever reason, many people don't want to handle the problem or complaint. Also, the complaint process is usually a hassle that entails forms to be filled out and/or several different people to be dealt with. I find myself repeating the situation many times. I can't understand why the sales process is fine tuned with prolific customer courting behaviors, yet the return or problem handling process is a fragmented and time-consuming adversarial event with behaviors reflecting outright contempt.

My Next Purchase Is New Business

I guess I see things a little differently. Why would I come back if I'm treated poorly and dealt with like I'm a pain in the rear? Don't they see my next purchase as new business? I really don't believe there is any such thing as old business. Every purchase I make is based somewhat on my past experiences. I think good customer service is a great sales technique, especially when I encounter a mistake or a problem as a customer.

I'm really like most; I don't often complain anymore. Yes, if the product I buy is defective or the invoice charge is incorrect I will let someone know. But, to complain about the way I'm treated, about the inconvenience, the lack of response, the not a good use of my time. Why? Well, for one thing I don't think it will do any good. Many past experiences have taught me that.

Another reason is that it is time consuming, and my time is valuable. Also, I believe it will be confrontational, and I don't wake up in the morning and relish looking forward to confrontations. Altogether it just seems like a big waste of time and effort, especially when I can simply just take my business elsewhere.

However, there are some companies I will definitely complain to. Those companies who have handled complaints and problems well in the past, I give the opportunity to do so again. Could it be the better companies get more complaints than others because the complaint experience isn't punishing for the customer? I know I lower the complaint load for those companies I believe have lousy recovery practices. It's easy to get me not to complain...make it uncomfortable. Maybe there's something to think about here.

There are some companies that really blow me away. Why? They perform their promise really well and they also have superb recovery practices. I'm an avid Nordstrom customer. Why? Never a problem with a return or an exchange. Never! And it is handled by the clerk at the first point of contact.

L.L Bean...simply the best. Why? Again, if I'm dissatisfied with anything for any reason, send it back. No problem. Never! Never!!! And when they are late or out of stock, a personal letter makes me feel like they are bending over backwards to keep me informed and get my order ASAP. Got to love 'em.

P.F. Chang's, the fast growing Chinese bistro! They go out of their way to ensure you have every opportunity to be completely impressed with the food and the service. Complaints are P.F. Chang's opportunity to ensure you will return for another meal!!!

Wal-Mart? Even as a discount store Wal-Mart treats the customer with the utmost respect, the staff is always helpful and the complaint and return process is by far the easiest in their industry. Could be a result of a Sam Walton quote I saw recently...

"There is only one boss: the customer. And he or she can fire everybody in the company, from the chairman on down, simply by spending their money somewhere else."

Thank you Sam!!!

It's a Matter Of True Character

Why are recovery efforts and problem solving practices so important to me? Because during these times a company demonstrates its true character. Like any human relationship, it's not how we treat each other when times are good that is the measure of the relationship. It is in troubled times that the relationship is put to the test.

With excellent recovery practices, a proactive approach to stand behind everything a company does, and a philosophy to make things right when they aren't, my loyalty becomes very attainable.

In business, when complaints of offered, the ledger of character is opened and examined. The tally is made, and then the reward or the penalty paid. This is the comeuppance that awaits us all. Many pay the penalty, the loss of the customer. This is justice meted out for poor recovery.

This is judgment day- in the Service Zone.

Key Principles:

How we handle complaints and problems for customers demonstrates who we really are and the values of the organization. This is an integrity issue and the customer will react accordingly. The best of the best recovery better than their competitors.

Thoughts & Questions:

To have a positive impact recovery efforts should be;

Recovery is a test of character!

Build or destroy the relationship with the customer by how you handle complaints and problems.

There is no cost of recovery, there is only an investment in the customer's future business.


Thanks Rick