Customer Complaints: How to Tame the Wild Beast

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Customer Complaints: How to Tame the Wild Beast

We get heaps of customer comments every week – some good, some not so friendly. Each store has several comment boxes with pens and comment pads available for the customers to write their comments or suggestions. (To find out why we love to get customer comments – and especially complaints – read the article below.)

These comment boxes aren’t on the counters, as I have found that most people don’t like to be seen while putting their comments in. Yet 98% put their full name & address on the comment sheet.

Most of the comments are hand written in our shop, but we also get quite a few letters each week. We have a comment section on our website as well, but so far we don’t get many comments online.
In the early days in business I used to answer them all personally, but with six stores now, it is better for the managers to write them… They are the ones who have to address and fix any of the problems in their stores. (I still read every one of them, but that is after the staff and managers have read them and replied.)

I learnt very quickly that, when writing back to these customers, you have to do so with empathy, you’ve gotta see it through their eyes. I still remember this one case, many years ago, when I was teaching one of our managers how to answer the complaints, how you have to put yourself in the customer’s shoes etc, and why you can’t justify why we stuffed up.

I later checked up on what she had written… Well! Here she was justifying and making excuses why our service was not good on that day, such as ‘We were short staffed’, etc. Now, let’s be crystal clear about this: the customer doesn’t care why we stuffed up. They don’t want to hear our excuses. They just want good service. This manager then went on to tell the customer that they were wrong on some other issue as well. Her reply was unbelievable, and with no empathy at all! Needless to say, she is no longer with us.

We always apologise, we always say sorry – and we really are sorry(!) – because we want every customer to be happy with our business. We never hesitate to give them their money back, and some coffee vouchers as well. Every customer comment, good or bad, gets a voucher sent with their reply, as we love the great feedback these customers give us.

When I was writing the replies in the early days, I have to admit some I found really hard to answer but I always tried to use a bit of humour. Just this week we got a customer in our shop in Beechworth who had written to us in 2001, and he brought with him my reply I had written back then. He was still very pleased that we had listened to him, and had kept this reply all those years. My bet is, he told heaps of people about the Beechworth Bakery.

I sometimes worry that now with 6 bakeries we don’t give enough individual attention to each customer complaint, especially when each manager has to sit and write back to 20 or 30 customers each week. But believe me, there’s nothing more worthwhile they could be doing!