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Dealing with criticism
Face it — golfers are going to complain. How you handle those complaints can be crucial in maintaining a loyal customer base.
Picture these scenes: An angry golfer calls you to complain about the conditions on one of your putting surfaces.
Or a prominent member walks into your office brandishing a pitching wedge that he broke on one of your irrigation heads and demands to know what you’re going to do about it.
Or you receive a letter complaining about a confrontation between a member of your maintenance staff and a group of golfers.
Whatever the scene, whatever the complaint, anger has been directed toward you and your golf course, and you now have a customer-relations problem. To address the problem decisively and retain the loyalty of those customers, you must take action. Now. Here are a few options to help you do just that.
Make your response personal. Golfers are customers. And many customers with complaints are angry because they don’t feel they can penetrate the impersonal veil of the business world. You’ll win half the battle by treating the golfer as an individual and giving the problem your undivided attention.
Smile. Some companies require customer service reps to face mirrors — and smile — as they attempt to resolve problems over the telephone. But you don’t have to use a mirror to set a warm, positive tone for the conversation.
Don’t pass the customer off to someone else. Even if you can’t solve the problem yourself, listen. Then bring in a colleague to help solve the problem, if necessary. Never pass the buck by suggesting the customer call so-and-so.
Apologize. An apology doesn’t always mean the customer is right. It does mean that you’re sorry for the break in your business relationship.
Don’t be defensive. While you should always be sympathetic to the needs of the customer, don’t feel you have to defend your actions or the actions of your facility. Maintain an easygoing, professional tone in your voice, and the conversation will probably remain positive.
Empathize, but don’t patronize. Let the customer know you understand the problems and the feelings they’ve created. But avoid treating the customer with insincere warmth.
Understand what you can do to resolve the problem — and then be prepared to do it. Nothing is better than an immediate solution that the customer likes. But don’t make promises that you can’t keep.
Make notes. If someone other than you may eventually have to deal with the problem, make notes. There’s nothing worse than forcing a customer to replay the problem over and over again.
Ask the customer what you can do to make the problem right. Perhaps you can solve the problem by offering up a free round of golf to the customer or a gift certificate in the pro shop. Just ask.
Be specific about promises. If you can’t resolve the customer’s problem yourself, be specific about what you intend to do. Give the customer precise appointment dates or deadlines for resolving the problem.
Do what you say you’ll do — and more. A note, a small gift, a gift certificate or some other token of appreciation helps compensate the customer for what they’ve been through — and builds ongoing customer loyalty.
Let the customer know your name. Let the customer know your name as early in the conversation as possible. Repeat the name at the beginning and end of the conversation so the customer can call you back if necessary or refer to your conversation in discussions with someone else.
Follow up after the complaint has been resolved. Contact your customer by telephone or e-mail a week or two after the complaint is resolved. This simple technique will help you spot any lingering problems.
Customer service problems happen. But the next time you hear that angry voice or read that angry letter, don’t get frustrated. Picture that angry golfer as the most important person in the world to you at that moment — and give that golfer’s concerns your undivided attention. Chances are the customer doesn’t want much — just someone to listen.
Chances are you can do just that and more. And if you do it well, you’ll resolve the problem at hand and build long-term customer goodwill in the process.