The Somerset County Gazette featured an article on 24th September outlining a family's disgust at the accommodation they were placed in when visiting a holiday site in Burnham on Sea (a seaside resort in Somerset).
The family report what can only be described as a nightmare for any family who has spent money in the anticipation of a relaxing holiday. Stomach-turning photographs and the family's account of cigarette ends under the bed, an ants' nest, filthy hob, insect-clad skylight, and a lack of safety equipment all add to the horror of the story. To add further damage, the report outlines the alleged lack of customer care by the company in question when responding appropriately to the family's issues.
Since the British have an appetite for stories of this nature then, you won't be surprised to hear that it's been 'liked', 'shared', and commented on by hundreds of people.
Although the company defends their position, the damage has been done and the situation truly reflects the impact of such stories surfacing on the internet and social media streams. Failure to deal with a customer complaint immediately and to the satisfaction of the customer does - and will, continue to result in individuals using the internet to air their grievances.
The impact of such stories comes at a significant cost to the company and can undo years of positive PR very quickly. The stories can result in cancellations by people with existing future bookings and also a decline in the repeat business of individuals who would otherwise frequent the resort regularly.
Since the potential for an individual to provide toxic PR for your company through a poor customer care attitude is boundless, then a well-communicated customer care plan coupled with strict customer care expectations for all staff members is essential. Customer care training should be a core commitment of all businesses with a recognition that the business is nothing without its customers. This commitment should be manifest in management behaviour and attitudes and training should be compulsory for all staff members. Staff should fully understand the customer care standards that the company has in place and methods for responding appropriately to even the most difficult customers. It is paramount that they appreciate the significance of protecting the reputation of their company in such interactions and the damage that can potentially be done by mismanaging the situation. Managers should then monitor the situation closely; listen to how staff deal with customers, understand the potential impact on the customer and intervene if they feel that the customer has not received the level of customer care promoted by the company. Ideally, there should be zero tolerance for any negligence in managing customer care needs.
Companies should also consider formal complaint procedures which allow complaints to be formally documented. Formal complaint documents allow a company to identify trends. For example, is this issue repeating itself? If so, what preventative actions should be put in place to stop it from happening in the first place or, if it's an issue that cannot be prevented (for example the Burnham on Sea complaint involves the invasion of ants which is common on agricultural land) then what robust contingent actions should be in place? It may also transpire that a particular individual is involved in an excessive number of complaints. Where this is the case, increased customer care training becomes essential.
Good customer care stories make the news too. For example, an incredibly uplifting story, published by the Metro, in which a McDonald's employee took the time and care to help a disabled customer eat his meal went viral recently. Although this story is a genuine act of respect and kindness by the employee, it makes fantastic positive PR for McDonald's. McDonald's are certainly the hero of this particular article. Even in the event of a complaint, a company's commitment to good customer care makes it more likely that the company will receive positive PR. For example, individuals communicating via Trip Advisor, Facebook, or other avenues may report that 'despite x,y or z being an issue the company was quick to resolve the situation and took the complaint seriously'. Such stories result in potential future customers feeling assured that if an issue were to happen that the company would take immediate action to resolve the situation and they are more likely to trust making a booking with the company.
It is paramount, therefore, that you protect your company from the type of bad PR experienced by the company in Burnham on Sea and ensure that your customer care processes work effectively and that your staff have equal buy-in to the importance of the standards and procedures. Check your processes regularly and consider a 'secret shopper' to assess the degree to which your staff promotes your standards.
Training South West provides Customer Care training and related business training to companies across the South West, including Somerset, Dorset, Devon, Cornwall and Wiltshire.