Adopting a caring line

by * , Thursday 24th November 1994 00:00

How do you handle customer complaints? Is there a clear policy for your company and is that policy properly communicated to staff? According to a survey of 1,000 UK adults, carried out for BT, the way you treat disgruntled customers could make the difference between your business succeeding or failing.

Most people surveyed said they would return to the same hotel or restaurant if a complaint was handled well. If it was not then there was a high chance they would not only take their custom elsewhere, but they would also encourage their friends to do the same. Thirty-nine per cent of people said they were dissatisfied with the outcome of their complaints and half felt their complaints were not welcomed.

Of course, BT has a vested interest in this issue. It is heavily promoting what it calls "dedicated telephone care lines" using 0800 Freefone numbers which enable customers to register their complaints. By installing them, caterers "are in a much better position to turn a complaining customer into someone who returns again and again," BT says.

The company claims there are 10 times as many "care lines" in the USA as there are in the UK and that "a special care line can triple the number of calls a business receives".

While many would greet the chance to increase the number of complaints they receive by a factor of three with horror, BT assures us that this is an opportunity rather than a threat.

In some ways such a service is an admission of defeat - in an ideal world things should be right first time, all the time. But in reality there is so much that can go wrong that inevitably mistakes are made, even in the best establishments.

Customers will judge you on how you cope when things go wrong. In such circumstances they particularly value courteous staff who make a real attempt to solve their problems. That might seem an obvious statement but what that means on the ground might not be obvious to all staff.

A "care line" might help in the effort to make customers aware that you have the right attitude, but it is no real substitute for training staff on how to handle complaints quickly and, where possible, taking action to prevent complaints occurring in the first place.


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