Customer service: avoiding trip-ups

2nd September, 2013

tripadvisorHere in the research industry, customer service is one of the most easily identifiable methods for self-analysis. So much of what we do comes down to providing our customers with an outstanding service that will see them coming back project after project. In that time, most of us would pride ourselves on developing and maintaining a working relationship with our clientele so that all future endeavours progress smoothly, that our drafts are received gracefully, that our surveying tools are praised accordingly.

And, of course, we are not the only sector that depends on delivering consistent exceptional service to a range of clients. Take this TripAdvisor review (N.B. The orginal review and reposte seems to have been deleted – so our link is to the Server Not Servant blog which managed to catch it all!)  If for nothing else, it is a quite fantastic read and an insight into how customer service and relations can be handled, but also provides an understanding of the ever growing role of social media in customer care (I’ll give you a hint, it’s massive!)

In my other life, I have worked on the front line in a café at various times and indeed the friendly back and forth between customers is part of what makes the job interesting; the same can be said when delivering service in a restaurant, as well as a pride of the products you are delivering to your waiting, hungry customers. Every industry with customer service will experience complaints – that is unfortunately, inevitable – but there is a growing belief that this vein of public sphere hyper-criticism combined with online anonymity is providing individuals with an opportunity to generate libellous claims that anyone can see.

In this case, the business owner has replied to the individual which is actually very brave. Due to the anonymous nature of rating and advisory sites, managing the expectations of your entire customer base, both current and future can hinge on online reviews such as this. The proprietor has accomplished a lesson in customer communication using a few methods:

1. The proprietor begins by ascertaining their previous positioning toward any negative reviews: they do not normally follow this up, they accept that bad reviews can and do happen. Conversely: this is an exceptional circumstance.
2. There is a clarification of internal standards: the proprietor and chef test and analyse any food left on any plate. They acknowledge that food was sent back, but maintain the company line that ‘the chef thanks you for your feedback’ (smirk!) but from here, move onto the offensive, to reclaim the argument.
3. Calling out the individual who dined to come and look at their own CCTV tapes, providing them with an opportunity to refute their claims. The proprietor also states their knowledge and experience in the business. This acts as a clarification to any potential customers to the absolute belief that the accusations are wrong.
4. Finally, by providing current and potential clients with a chance to access the accusers’ previous reviews, the proprietor further generates a firewall to defend from behind. Quickly glancing through the reviews shows a consistent nagging tone throughout, further justifying the choice to refute the individual’s claims.

In this case, the proprietor was in the right; it is clear that the individual had been economical with the truth, that the business had a reputation to protect and that this appears to be an exceptional example. It doesn’t always work out like this, especially online. It is easy for me to say that you should always handle your complaints directly with your clients through a clear mode of communication, but this isn’t always possible (especially outside of research based businesses), but consider that when communicating in the public forum, whatever you say will always be there.