Today’s post covers two extremely important topics for all entrepreneurs/small business owners:  1) how to make sure your business isn’t just a job and 2) how to handle disgruntled customers.

Regarding the first topic, the difference between creating a job for yourself versus creating a business, read entrepreneur Jay Gotz’s latest entry on the The New York Times‘s You’re the Boss small business blog, titled “How Can I Turn This Into a Real Business?” and make sure to read the comments.

Btw, there is nothing wrong with being a solopreneur, as long as you are happy being a one-man — or one-woman — show. But if that’s not making you happy, or why you created your business, be sure to read Jay Gotz’s “Ask Jay” column. It’s short and provides several excellent suggestions.

Regarding the second topic, how to handle disgruntled customers, I want to share with you a recent experience my husband and I had with an online luxury vacation rental company called Haven in Paris.

I came across Haven in Paris while searching for a Parisian apartment to rent over Thanksgiving week on VRBO.com, a well-known (and well thought of) vacation rental site, and I was very impressed with its website, the clean layout, the good use of graphics, the great photographs, and well-written copy. Moreover the site was easy to navigate and I was able to quickly find what I was looking for, i.e., a nice one-room apartment in the sixth arrondissement of Paris that could comfortably sleep three.

As someone who reviews websites for a living, I would give the Haven in Paris website an A-. (Haven in Paris also has a blog, a must for small businesses, which is also quite well done and filled with interesting and useful information.)

After several emails and phone conversations, where I posed several specific questions to the HiP team, and received satisfactory answers in a very timely fashion, I rented an apartment through them. The whole process was handled professionally and smoothly, and my family was soon looking forward to staying in a “luxurious” fully equipped apartment instead of the tiny Parisian hotel rooms we were used to.

Indeed, everything went great — until we arrived at the apartment.

Despite emails and phone calls to the Parisian greeter, letting him know when we’d be arriving, several times, he was not there when we arrived, and we had to track him down to get in. Moreover, despite the Haven in Paris promise of flowers and wine upon our arrival, we were met with neither. Not being big wine drinkers that wasn’t a big deal, but it did not reflect well on a company that made luxury and service its motto.

Far worse was the fact that the greeter was unfamiliar with our apartment and its workings or with the checkout procedure or what was going on in the building, which was undergoing a major renovation. (We had been told there might be “some painting” going on, but that it would be quiet and would not effect us or the apartment and were given a discount in the event the work had not been finished by the time we got there, which we thought fair.)

Worst of all, though, was when we tried to get assistance from the local contact, none was to be had — or had very belatedly.

Frustrated and sleep deprived we fired off email after email to the Haven in Paris team back in the States. And much to their credit, instead of ignoring our pleas or being defensive (which many small business owners are tempted to do when things go wrong), the Haven in Paris team promptly replied to each and every one of our queries, acknowledged our frustration, and tried to make things right, as much as was in their power over 3000 miles away — which was absolutely the right thing to do.

Indeed, if I had to name the top three things to mollify a disgruntled customer they would be:

1) Respond promptly to any and all complaints, i.e., in less than 24 hours, and preferably in under three hours (if during regular business hours), either via email or by phone.

2) Acknowledge the customer’s frustration or complaint politely and professionally, i.e., don’t be defensive or put the blame on the customer but apologize for any inconvenience or confusion or problem and let the customer know you really heard her.

3) Offer a solution — or ask how you can make things right, even if it means refunding the customer partially or fully.

The result: Even though we experienced numerous problems, as a result of Haven in Paris’s superior customer service, and proper handling of our complaints, we would still recommend their service (and apartments) to friends and would rent with them again.

So next time you find yourself dealing with a disgruntled customer, remember these three vital tips: Respond promptly. Acknowledge the complaint. Offer a solution or to make things right. Trust me, the resulting good will, referrals, and repeat business will more than make up for any inconvenience.

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Comments

Haven in Paris on 15 December, 2009 at 2:22 pm #

We at Haven in Paris wanted to follow up with on this piece.

First, we appreciate the objective representation of the events as they happened. We did our best in what was a difficult situation for all and are grateful that the clients recognized this fact. Since their stay, we have in fact been in discussions with the property owner to replace the greeter & apartment management team with more reliable individuals, as we can neither afford nor will we accept another such situation.

Second, in terms of the work that was going on in the building, we felt we had been clear in our early correspondence about the possibility of renovations & the potential resulting inconvenience. Evidently we must not have been as explicit as we thought and we apologize for that. We will be sure in future to be even more clear when it comes to matters of work that could potentially be disruptive to clients. We were in no way trying to sugarcoat any facts.

It is our goal at Haven in Paris to provide the highest level of customer service and we are fortunate that, more often than not, everything goes smoothly and our guests do not have unpleasant experiences during their stay. It is upsetting to us when something goes wrong, and we will always do our best to rectify any problems that arise, no matter how big or small. We have a wonderful clientele and we would like each of our guests to have the best stay possible.


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