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Learnings from a burned teacake

The other day we sat in a cafe enjoying a coffee and a toasted teacake. This was a simple pleasure on a walk after three months of lockdown. But there was a problem, or at least someone in our group had a problem. Her teacake had been left in the toaster too long and she thought it was burned. We are experts on toasted teacakes and discussed the issue. Yes, it was a bit overdone.

When it was time to pay, the waitress thanked us and asked if everything was to our satisfaction. Our friend launched into a major criticism of the way the teacake had been toasted. The waitress rebutted and said that the problem with the teacake should have been raised earlier and it would have been replaced. Our friend said this would not have fitted in with our timetable as we were looking for a quick snack and wanted to be on our way and, in any case, it shouldn’t have been burned in the first place. Some in our party cringed and slipped beneath the table.

As we left the cafe, the subject turned to complaints – when, how and who complains. It seemed from our conversation that we are very different in the way we take issue with something that can go wrong. In the case of the burned teacake some in our party believed there was no point in complaining as we were never likely to pass the cafe again. Others felt a moral obligation to report the disaster so that the cafe owners or at least the person in charge of the toasting can turn the machine down a notch.

The debate kept us going for a good half hour. Would the waitress bother reporting the complaint? If she did, would the cafe owner respond and rectify their processes? Would the complaint result in increased bitterness to ungrateful customers or an improved customer service?

This was all good stuff to those of us who love the subject of customer experience. It showed the difference in attitudes customers have to complaining. Some may complain at the slightest thing whilst others maintain a sulky silence and vote with their feet. It showed the importance of having a process so that when a complaint is made it can be dealt with, recorded, answered, and necessary improvements put in place.

Complaints are valuable feedback. Customers that complain share their adverse experiences far more than those who are satisfied with the service. In coronavirus terms the “r” value of complaints is much more than 1 and some say the atrocity stories get retold as many as 15 times. This means that complaints can do immense damage by spreading far and wide. Ignore them and we are missing out on a great opportunity to learn more about our customers and what they think.

Complaints are research for free which we can profit from. For sure there will be some people who complain needlessly or do so in a mischievous attempt to obtain a concession from their supplier. These people are so small in numbers they shouldn’t influence our attitude to complaints. All complaints are worth listening to. If we look at them in a positive light they provide feedback of immense value. They improve our brand, they improve customer loyalty, and they cost us very little. Hmm, it would have been nice to not have been charged for the burned teacake.

See how “the listening wheel” can help deal with complaints:


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