Customer Service for the Guest-zilla

Everyone has dealt with a situation that pushed your limits and tested your civility. The woman with the “Let me talk to your manager” finger wag. The man on a cellphone you weren’t moving fast enough for. In the service and hospitality industries, customers can sometimes get very demanding very quickly. One of the biggest fears when confronting these tough situations is that an angry customer will go and write a bad online review or slander you to their friends. In a world where our businesses seems to be at the mercy of a Facebook or Google review, this fear finds strength, especially for smaller businesses. But there’s a way to deal with conflict that won’t leave the customer with a bad taste in their mouth. If any one company has dealt with hundreds of customer complaints on a daily basis, it’s Disney. Because of this, the Disney Institute developed the H.E.A.R.D. method for customer service—Hear, Empathize, Apologize, Resolve, and Diagnose. The goal is to resolve the situation while still helping the customer feel valued. This method has helped Disney become the king of the castle of hospitality. If we break down each step, we can see how best to utilize this approach to help prevent the dreaded 1-Star rating: Step 1: Hear Let the customer tell you the entire story without interrupting them. Customer complaints can get very emotional, and often, when someone is upset, they just need someone to listen to them. Remember that the complaint is not personal. Don’t match their negative emotion. Hold your emotions in check and stay calm during the investigation of the problem. This is not a fight of who is right and who is wrong. You don’t win by arguing. You win by calming the situation down and by finding a resolution. Make sure to listen for understanding, and not just to respond. Take a second and make sure you understand how the customer sees the situation. Then, you can begin to find out how to fix it.
quick tip Help get your personal emotions out of the equation so you can more logically resolve the situation by thinking of yourself as a puppeteer and your body as a puppet. The customer is not projecting frustration onto you, but rather onto the puppet. This leaves your mind free to listen to the customer and really try to understand the situation.
Step 2: Empathize Empathy is one of the most critical customer service skills you can possess. It’s the ability to deeply understand the thoughts and emotions of your customer, and make sure they know you understand them. Remember that they are people. They aren’t upset at you, they are upset at the situation. We can all relate to a time where things didn’t go our way and we got upset. Put yourself in their shoes and recognize the emotions. Say things like, “I’d be upset too,” or “I can see why you’d be frustrated.” Be sure to be genuine and sincere or it will make the situation worse. Show your surprise if a customer had a bad experience; that it’s not the norm. Step 3: Apologize Again, authentic and genuine apologies are what matter. If something has gone wrong for the customer, apologize. Even if it is not the company’s fault, a genuine apology helps them feel understood and willing to move towards a resolution. Apologize for the difficult time they are facing. Say things like, “I’m sorry you’ve had such a difficult time. Let’s see what we can do to resolve this.” This shows that you care about them and that you want to fix the situation. Step 4: Resolve There are things you can control and there are things that you cannot. For situations that you can do nothing about, let the customer know, but be willing to offer an alternative. If the customer wants something that you are not allowed to give them, let the customer know about the policy. Don’t be rude, but clearly state the policy and stand firm. Make sure not to over-promise. Offer an alternative that is within your power. This can be something like a credit or a complimentary gift. Match the compensation with the issue at hand. There is no need for a month free when one night was disrupted. If in doubt, resolve things in favor of the customer. Step 5: Diagnose Once the customer is satisfied, and the situation has been resolved, find out why the situation happened in the first place. This isn’t about finding the person to blame, it is about finding what happened so that it can be fixed and kept from recurring. Bill Gates said, “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” These customers can show us weaknesses in our standard operating procedures and help us improve. Was there a training issue? Did the customer misunderstand policy? How can we keep this from happening again? It’s okay to make mistakes so long as once they are found, they are fixed. On the rare occasion that the conflict isn’t resolved or the customer destroys property, you might need to prevent that person from returning. Hopefully you don’t have to (and only as a last resort) but banning a guest may be a necessary plan of action.

side note Sometimes, raised emotions can linger with us after the situation is resolved. If not handled, they can spill over into other tasks and interactions. We are people with emotions of our own. We might have tempers that rival the MOAB. Learn to recognize the signs in yourself to avoid blowing up at someone else. These signs are different for everyone, but usual signs include feeling your blood pressure rising, raised temperature, and sensing your mind fixating on previous frustration rather than the task at hand. The Mayo Clinic suggests that taking a timeout, or a few moments of quiet time, might help you feel better prepared to handle tough situations without getting angry. Another good article on managing emotions at work can be found at
Every situation is different, but one thing is constant: People want to feel valued and be taken care of. This goes for customers as well as business owners and employees. We can’t prevent every negative situation. But, we can learn how to better influence a negative situation towards a positive resolution, and have the woman who wanted to talk to the manager thank you for taking the time to listen and to help.
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