Ian's Bits & Bobs: The Blog



Recently I felt I had reason to complain (who, me?) to a museum that was closed on a Tuesday (the only day I was in town), given the 2000 miles distance and tight business travel. Afterwards, I emailed them suggesting that to take a day off in the summer tourist season was to lose credibility with people (like me) who had long supported their cause. If retailers, airlines and hotels can run every day of the week why do museums (and some Nature Reserves – equally irritating) need a day off to attend to the facilities?

I thought my protest had value. Their response said that they understood my disappointment – good start – but then proceeded to patronizingly justify their action with details about all their operational needs.

A few years ago, when given a two door rental car instead of the four door car I had reserved and paid for, I was told by the agent, “You don’t understand my problem, Mr Baldwin”. He was right: not only did I not understand his problem, I really didn’t care. I was trying to imagine the week ahead with a 2 door car.

Customers don’t care about your problems unless and until you show genuine interest in theirs.

Defending the company against customers!

Have you ever noticed that when they receive a complaint from a customer, the overwhelming majority of retail employees go into “defense” mode immediately? They may deny the situation (“I don’t think we would have told you that”), blame other factors (all the growers’ plants are stressed this year”) or suggest the customer to be at least partly responsible (“well, the label says ‘Shade’”). In one quick sentence you may hear DDJJ: Denial, Defensiveness, Justification or Judgementalism – all over a $20 hanging basket!

It is so easy to slip into the habit and I can be guilty as charged, so I have to have my own “validation” app switched on from dawn until dusk myself.

Empathy, not sympathy

Validation does NOT mean you agree with what the customer says or asks for. Often there may be a wide gap, but it does mean that you respect the customer and recognize that they have value. Empathy is the word, not sympathy.

Validation is such a powerful tool for any sales/service organization for two reasons:

1)  because recognition of the customer’s reason to be unhappy is essential for any possible rescue of the situation

2) because almost no one does it. (I have had finger-wagging lectures from airline staff for showing up late at a gate and brazen denial from hotel salespeople even though I was paying their wage with mine.)

So, why validate?  First, it recognizes the customer’s disappointment or failure to get results or for wasting their time or money.  Secondly, until the customers feel that their situation or problem has value they are absolutely not listening to anything you might say to correct the situation. (Until they know they are going to get a replacement hanging basket any advice on proper watering is totally lost.)

Customers often return to a store upset and tense. They are using their valuable time to correct something they think is wrong or to achieve what they originally paid for.  There’s lots of research showing that “complainers” don’t really want to go and shop elsewhere, they just want their failure-to-achieve recognized, given value.

Saying, “Oh no! Those are beautiful plants, I can see why you are upset, let’s get you another one” (empathy & resolution) instead of “Did you water it?” (suspicion & blame) will go a long way to reducing that tension. The sooner you can defuse the tension, the higher the likelihood that you will retain future sales from a frustrated customer.

Finally, unlike many items consumers buy every day, garden retailing deals with emotions and aspirations, so the validation must be genuine.  “Oh you are right, that IS a misleading sign, I didn’t see that but I’ll change that right now, thanks so much for pointing that out”. There’s nothing worse to a disgruntled customer than insincere sincerity.

Consistently training your staff on how to sincerely validate customer complaints instead of slipping into “DDJJ” will pay dividends in customer satisfaction and retention in the long term.

Have a wonderful day!

Photo credit:  Ryan McGuire

Jul 23, 2015 23 Comments