Dealing With Disappointment

Last Updated May 11, 2010 6:43 AM EDT

The Icelandic volcanic cloud is continuing to cause lots of problems and it's been very interesting observing how businesses have dealt with disappointed customers -- or how badly.

It's reminded me of an airline who lost my bag a couple of years ago. Its whole attitude was so appalling I renamed the Customer Care centre, the Couldn't Care centre. All I got was scripted responses to all our queries and questions, which obviously added to my frustration.

I know flights get delayed, and that things that aren't supposed to happen, do happen. That's one of the hazards of air travel. I can live with that. What I can't live with is when those who've made the mistake, don't care, or even appear to care.

All I wanted was an apology and a bit of empathy. I received neither (it's ironic that if you combine those two words you get 'apathy' - which sums up exactly what I got).

Dealing with disappointment is something that all businesses need to get right. I've read that 70 percent of people will do business with you again if you can resolve their problem or complaint, and this rises to over 90 percent 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 this is powerful stuff.

Here are 5 steps to consider when dealing With disappointed customers:

  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.
  2. Empower for it. As a result, the best businesses empower their people to deal with disappointment. A simple test to see how empowered your people really are is to ask yourself 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 $2000 to resolve a customer's problem or deal with a complaint on the spot without having to get permission from a manager.
  3. Prepare for it. What are the things that typically disappoint your customers? 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 too much though. A friend of mine once got a letter apologising for a mistake he'd complained about to one company. 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. The easier you are to complain to, the more customer focussed you're likely to be.
  5. Just deal with it. It's one thing to have a plan in place for customer disappointment, but you really need to have a culture that takes pride in dealing with it. From the bottom up, create a readiness to meet complaints head on, rather than avoid them.