While traveling through Alaska a couple of years back we received shoddy service at the hotel restaurant (cold food, lengthy waiting times and some items on the menu out of stock).
The following morning I dropped an item on the bedroom floor. When bending down to pick it up, I glanced under the bed and was appalled to see a thick layer of dirt, a used tissue, and a discarded plastic cup – obviously, no one had bothered to clean under the bed for months. Closer inspection of the rest of the room revealed more dust and dirt. This wasn’t a cheap hotel, and they were serving dozens of guests every day.
Why businesses receive customer complaints?
Now I believe in reporting a problem to management, so before checking out I asked to see the manager. I told him what I had seen in the room and offered to show him my room. He declined the offer. I was given a sad story about how difficult it was to get good help and that this was the start of the summer season. My wife and I were each given fifty dollar vouchers.
I really didn’t get the impression that anything was going to change at the establishment which was owned by a large company, so I sent a complaint to their office. Several months later I received a call from a junior representative to ask me some questions, they undertook to forward my complaint and gave me another fifty-dollar voucher. That was the last I heard about the matter.
Now I often submit reviews on TripAdvisor, both good and bad. This hotel got a poor review from me. I was fascinated to see that several months after my review was posted other reviews featured similar customer complaints, so obviously, no one bothered to take my comments seriously.
Recently I stayed at a guest lodge in Johannesburg, and was appalled at how dirty the room was; black mold all over the shower, dust, and dirt everywhere torn bath mat, cigarette burn in the sheet (and no this wasn’t some cheap boarding house but a supposedly upmarket hotel). Needless to say, my review was not favorable. The management did reply to my review and said the guest lodge was undergoing an upgrade and I was welcome to return when it was complete, and I would receive a complimentary night’s accommodation. Really, the hotel is undergoing upgrades and this was the excuse for a dirty room, ragged bath mat, etc.
I’ve noticed recently that many companies offer a bottle of wine, voucher, or gift to customers that complain. This seems like a bribe to me. Here is something for free, now go away and stop complaining.
But I’m not complaining to get a free gift, rather I’m complaining so that action can be taken to improve the situation so that the following customers get better service than me.
In construction, things will go wrong. We will have unhappy customers. Customers will complain. In fact, I welcome customers' complaints. At least it means they are still talking to us rather than customers talking with their feet. The first we know they are unhappy is when they don’t return – then it’s too late. We’ll never see them again, we’ll never get the chance to convince them that we can do better, and we’ve probably upset other customers in the meantime with the same fault.
So how should you respond to customer complaints?
Well, I think the first thing is to listen to them. Often managers try and interrupt customers, argue with them, or make excuses – even blaming others. Invariably this makes the customer more irate. No matter how annoyed the customer is, let them get the problem out. In fact, offer to take them to some chairs so you can discuss the problem and you’ll often find they eventually run out of steam. Just the act of sitting down and listening quickly deflates them.
It’s important to acknowledge the problem, even if it seems trifling to you. Understand what the problem is.
Outline what steps you will take to correct the problem. Even follow up with the customer later (a telephone call or email) to tell them what has been implemented to correct the problem and prevent the problem from recurring.
Correct the problem
Equally important is to ensure that the problem has in fact been corrected. Customer complaints and problems that are ignored can quickly upset an unhappy customer even further. But more importantly, as long as the problem isn’t sorted there will invariably be more unhappy clients.
Your role as a manager
As a manager, it’s easy to make excuses, or blame others. But, is an angry client really interested in excuses? As management, we need to realize that we are responsible for those that are working for us. If they aren’t doing what they should be, then it reflects on us. Sure, we can’t be everywhere all the time, but it is our responsibility to ensure that those working for us understand what’s expected from them and that they have the skills and resources to deliver. It does mean that we should be continually checking on people and processes to ensure they are all performing correctly, and making appropriate changes when there’s a problem.
Sure there are some customers who will complain about nothing. But make sure that you do investigate the problem to ensure there isn’t an underlying problem that you missed. In fact, often a problem, such as poor quality or rude service, is indicative of poor management. If management is slipping up on the basics of quality management they could be slipping up elsewhere, and before you know it the project is losing money.
Sometimes the problem isn’t attributable to your company at all.
Maybe the client has unreasonable expectations, they were expecting marble floor tiles and not ceramic ones. Well, explain to them that they are only paying for ceramic tiles and that’s what was in the specifications. Equally important is to ensure that your client has reasonable expectations.
Don’t advertise yourself as a five-star hotel if you are a boarding house. Don’t advertise that your clients will receive a luxury home when they won’t be. Of course, the fact that the house isn’t a luxury house should never be an excuse for poor quality. No matter what the price of the project, the client has a right to expect a quality build. Sure, cheaper projects may be smaller and have lesser specifications, but a cheap price should never be an excuse for poor quality workmanship or substandard materials.
Sometimes the problem may be due to a design fault. If the designers are appointed by the client then point out why the problem isn’t yours, but offer advice on what steps the client could take to rectify the problem where possible.
Always try and be understanding. Clients have usually paid lots of money and they expect to receive a quality product and value for their money.
Of course, visiting your projects regularly, being on-site enables you to see when problems occur – before they turn into major blowouts from your client. Regularly talking to your clients and customers enables you to hear what they have to say before they get totally upset and irate. Don’t let that wisp of smoke (the first sign of a problem) turn into a raging inferno.
Your team needs to know how important it is to produce a good quality project. They must understand how imperative good service is. To do this you should provide them with the correct equipment and training. But equally important is to keep checking and be consistent with not accepting poor standards.
How do you respond to customer complaints?
Have you had an unreasonable response from a company when you complained – tell us about your experience?