How to Get a Cranky Customer

Being on the receiving end of bad service can ruin your day. But there’s good news: Every bad customer service experience you have (or hear about) can help you improve your own customer service.

Here’s an example. Heading home from a business trip, I’d made an airport shuttle reservation for 6:45 – leaving me plenty of time to deal with potentially bad traffic, long lines at check in, and slow-moving airport security. (Flying makes me anxious, and having extra time to deal with “hiccups” helps calm me down.)

At 7:00, I called the shuttle company. After a few long minutes, the reservation agent told me that the shuttle would be there… in a half-hour.

Panic set in. Then anger.

I managed to get another ride to the airport. And because I’d allowed myself some extra time, there were no problems. But it started my day on the wrong foot.

Then I called the shuttle company manager to ask her to refund my credit card. To add insult to injury, she wasn’t particularly pleasant.

“They didn’t mean a half-hour from now,” she said testily. “They meant that the shuttle would be there a half-hour from 6:45.” (This, despite the fact that it was already 7:15.)

Whatever the reservation agent had meant, he’d said 30 minutes from the time I called. The manager tried to argue that I was wrong – which made me madder.

Think I’ll use that service again? No way.

Here are three lessons to take from this:

  1. If you promise something – like a pick-up time or shipment date – make sure you can deliver. For instance, had the shuttle company said they would pick me up “between 6:45 and 7:30,” I’d have felt a lot better about the whole deal.
  2. If a customer calls to complain – even if his complaint isn’t justified – don’t argue. He is calling because he is upset and his needs aren’t being met. Put your ego aside and listen. Apologize. And come up with a solution that will benefit him.
  3. Take another look at your business priorities. As Bob Bly points out, “Whenever you fail to make serving your customers your number one priority… you are telling them, ‘I don’t value you, and I don’t want your business.'” So whenever you make a business decision, consider your customer first.
[Ed. Note: Suzanne isn’t the only one who’s had to deal with bad service. ]