When Customer Expectations Are Unreasonable, Meet Them Anyway

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When customer expectations are high, meet them anyway.

It takes self-control to handle a customer with over-the-top expectations. Regardless of the type of business you’re in, there’s much to learn from Edie, the group event coordinator at Bahama Breeze Island Grille Restaurant.

On her day off, Edie got a call from the restaurant’s Livonia, Michigan location. A customer was in a super big rush to book a baby shower for 45 women and wanted to secure the date immediately.

Why the hurry? Here’s what the customer said:

“The shower is only five weeks away. We’re having the invitations printed later today, and we just decided NOT to host it at home as originally planned.  It’s time to mail out the invitations, so we have to secure a venue right away.”

Edie phoned the customer, and got sent to voicemail. (So much for urgency!) She left the woman a friendly message, along with her cell phone number since she was not at the office.

The customer returned the call, asked for a specific date, and waited as Edie phoned the venue to confirm that the date was available. Committed to give the customer a positive experience, Edie took all the time her customer needed to go over the menu choices, prices and set up. Edie said, “I’ll print out a contract and have it ready to sign when I get back to work tomorrow.”

The customer bristled. She said, “I want to sign the contract now,  before the invitations are printed.”

In that moment, Edie showed self-control, and focused on managing the customer’s expectations. Far too many service providers slip up in moments like this by taking offense or getting annoyed. Without skills  they think (or worse… say) things like these:

“I told you I’m the only one who takes bookings. Do you expect me to go up to work on my day off to handle this when there was no way in the world anyone else could steal the event away from?”

“Why should your lack of planning create urgency for me?”

“If you’re so worried, postpone printing the invitations until after the contract is signed. Why should I deal with your self-imposed deadlines?”

Service providers who know how to provide outstanding service understand why and how to build rapport with even the most difficult customers. Here are three ways to do this:

  1. Instead of seeing customers as problems, see them as people in need of your help.
  2. Remind yourself that being compassionate when under pressure creates happier outcomes and great word of mouth recommendations.
  3. Be a trust-builder. Customers are the reason your business exists, and what they want most is to know you care and feel like they matter.

Truly wanting to create positive customer experiences sets you apart from those who simply go through the motions.

Edie chose her words with care. She managed the customer’s expectation by explaining the process, answering questions with kindness and giving lots of reassurance. The result? Her customer settled down, feeling secure that she’d have a signed contract the next day.

But the next day, something went wrong.

Edie’s computer system crashed, and she was unable to access the booking software. She phoned the customer and left a message on voice mail. She said, “I’m really, really sorry. Our computer booking system is down, and I won’t be able to print the contract out today. I promise you that you’ve got the date, and it’s safe to send out your invitations. Nothing will prevent you from having that date.”

The customer called her back feeling afraid to mail out the invitations. It took time to help this customer trust that all was well.

Even though circumstances outside of Edie’s control made it impossible to fulfill the customer’s expectation, her reassuring approach worked, because she went above and beyond to make the customer feel valued, cared about and secure.

I know this because I am that customer. Yep! I hate to admit it, but I was in full-blown Gladys mode. (Gladys is the name we give to customers who demand more from you … more self-awareness, more skill, and more self-control.)

I wanted to book this restaurant because my friend and coauthor Lori Jo Vest recommended it having thrown a lovely shower at that location. (Tip: Customer recommendations trump advertising.)

I’m grateful to Edie for the way she managed my last-minute urgency. (Tip: Customers tend to know when they’re being demanding, and appreciate when service providers grace them with kindness.)

Booking the shower was my only role for the event, and despite having to wait for the contract, Edie made it a win for me. (Tip: When customer’s expectations are managed, they relax and trust is gained.)

What about you? How do you create a win for customers when their expectations can’t be met exactly as they’d hoped?

Marilyn Suttle is a customer experience expert, international speaker, and coauthor of the bestselling book, Who’s Your Gladys? How to Turn Even the Most Difficult Customer into Your Biggest Fan  and Taming Gladys! The Busy Leader’s Guide to Creating Fierce Customer Loyalty. Marilyn delivers customer service and communication keynotes and workshops to help her audiences create strong, productive relationships in every area of life. For more information, email: marilyn@marilynsuttle.com 

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