Customers bitching? Bitch back! - delivering premium service by way of reverse psychology
Many people don't realize my background is in retail, and it's upon this foundation of managing the customer relationship that I often draw when thinking about how to serve our audiences better. I was brought up to have the state of mind that when a customer complains, you cower and belittle yourself to their satisfaction, now matter how ridiculous or outlandish their request, lest they solicit a rival firm. They are the customer - therefore they have achieved deity-like status for no other reason than having walked in the store.
Complete and utter excrement.
It's a very interesting change now that I'm in the broadcast media business...the rule of "the customer is always right" doesn't necessarily apply. A theory I developed years ago was that people often exhibit honest cries for help beneath the guise of a formalized complaint, be it verbal, written, etc. Further, I've taken note of the fact from a customer service standpoint, most people, contrary to popular belief or much TQM teaching, don't want to be pitied, told "yes, sir, you're absolutely right", get free stuff out of it, receive a discount or otherwise have their asses kissed. They want to know you care - about them and about the integrity of your operation, as well as providing them with premium service.
We're not in the business of appeasing each and every need and desire a "customer" - a viewer, listener, online user - may have...it's impossible. I learned very early on into my television career that it's perfectly acceptable to tell someone to take a long walk off of a short pier if they don't like what you're doing. This is rooted in the Lincoln-esque fact that it's impossible to keep absolutely everyone happy all the time. And broadcast media, by its nature being the most public of forums, is subject to harsh criticism in tsunami-like swells.
Aggressive complaints warrant aggressive responses, if the intent is the retention of business. I've noticed that people more than often than not appreciate a hard-and-fast rejoinder rather than pity, sympathy, or total naive agreement. You voice a concern about a perceived quality level of our services (or lack thereof), to which I offer a structured rebuttal: explaining our stance, conceding some of your points and accepting your suggestions, but also blatantly stating where you're wrong and are making woefully inept and admittedly ignorant assumptions about how things work internally in my organization. I also let you in on a few justifying industry secrets so you're in the know. I lastly bring harsh reality crashing down on you, putting you in your place and reminding you that in the grand scheme of things, your business is valuable, but in the end, if we're to lose it, it's of little consequence.
But this isn't a make-you-feel-bad-fest just for the sake of hurting someone's feelings. This is quality customer service, albeit unorthodox. At the end of the counterargument, I sum everything up and let you know how your business is valued and how we'd like to retain your patronage as a customer. I also make myself available for further comment and/or explanation of the issue.
I've noticed this approach works very well with people. Many viewers I've had such discussions with have, as a result of such debates, become loyal customers of ours, because we took such a forthright stance at defending our position and showing concern for them. It shows our passion for what we do - and that's something no storefront can accurately display.
My role in the media now mandates that I have to reply to this type of criticism on an almost daily basis about people challenging everything in our business from our use of graphics, to our style of journalism and editorial work, to our strategic business decisions. So, I've gotten a lot of practice at doing this sort of thing.
And granted this type of tactic isn't for everyone, and only those that really know how to prefect the craft of customer service can pull it off without being outright rude. For those people, the gambit pays off, and nicely so. You develop a deeper relationship with your clientele. You also have to be ready to bite the bullet and be willing to lose the argument at times. And this certainly can't apply in each and every industry out there, but it does work well in several situations.
So if you ever call, write or fax and get such treatment from me, it's not personal...just business.