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When Dealing with Customers, Check your Ego at the Door

I was reading Yelp last week, looking for restaurant recommendations while on vacation in southern California, when I came across this one place that looked promising and had a pretty decent number of four and five star reviews. Of course, my eyes immediately jumped to the one and two star reviews because I naturally wanted to know what the complaints were. This one guy totally slammed the place; I don’t even remember why, but that’s not important. What was memorable was the owner’s response to the review. The owner’s reply went something like this (I’m paraphrasing but it’s close): “Joe Smith, I’ve read your other four reviews on Yelp and you don’t seem to like anything. You obviously can’t be pleased. Do yourself a favor and stay home.”

I re-read it a couple of times to make sure I got it right. I mean, c’mon. Do we all have clients who are miserable and are never going to find the good in us, no matter what we do? Yes. Should we ever say this out loud, especially in a public forum? Absolutely not! Being a business owner or working in a customer-facing job, whether it’s at a restaurant, in a call center, or in a B2B office environment, means you have to put your ego in check and look at the big picture when it comes to customer complaints.

Not only was this business owner’s response totally inappropriate and rude, it was downright foolish. He missed a HUGE opportunity to try and turn around that diner’s opinion of the restaurant and he probably tainted the opinion of other readers and potential diners, including mine. I know first-hand that it’s hard not to get defensive and take it personally when a customer has a complaint about your products or services, but a defensive attitude has no place in customer service. And from the looks of the subsequent reviews on Yelp, it looks like someone tried to get that message across to my restaurant owner because his later responses to complaints were less confrontational and more apologetic. Unfortunately, the damage was done with that one obnoxious comment.

So next time you’re faced with a ranting customer, think of my restaurant owner friend. Take a step back, put your ego in check, and think about that customer not as someone you have to defend yourself against, but as someone you have the opportunity to change the opinion of. Or, more simply, just ask yourself, would you rather have that customer walk awaymore pissed off or really impressed by your willingness to listen, understand, and make a change?

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Comment by Myles Bristowe on August 24, 2010 at 3:44pm
You make a good point Carolyn. Companies need to be careful with how they respond to criticism.

I went to friendly's in Foxboro at 9:30 this past Sunday morning. At 11, our food still hadn't arrived. Finally our waitress told us they had "run out of eggs". After we had put in our order, an elderly couple was seated across from us. They had eaten, paid their check and the table was cleared before our food arrived at noon... Ironically, the woman had ordered eggs.

It's a good thing I like hanging out with my wife and kids and that we didn't have someplace to be. Just the same, I decided to post a comment about our experience on the Friendly's Facebook page. Within an hour they posted a response on Facebook saying, "Myles, so sorry that this happened. Please send us a message here:"

I thought their response was appropriate - even though they might have been tempted to make excuses, delete my comment or maybe pretend like it never happened. Now I have sent them a note through their customer response system and I assume I will hear back from Friendly's within the next couple of days.

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