Week eight – Promoting courtesy in your business

31 October to 6 November

When speaking to courteous businesses in Ilfracombe over the past two months, I’ve spoken to several who feel sensitive about asking customers for comments to use as recommendations. This is easier for some types of business than others, especially where customers require differing levels of confidentiality.

Achieving the right balance is essential as people shouldn’t feel hassled or compelled to make a favourable comment. After all, comments are only of value if they are genuine.

Obtaining feedback is important to help us measure how well we are doing, but how we obtain it is important too. A number of businesses mentioned that they did not ask customers for comments, even though they are providing superb service. It’s good to see some of these now collecting feedback.

How can we collect feedback courteously?

There are many ways of obtaining feedback. It is best when comments are offered voluntarily, although sometimes when people are in a hurry they don’t have time. Making it as easy as possible for people to comment at any time can help to obtain their feedback.

  1. The easiest way to do this is to ask people at the time. Developing an unobtrusive manner so that people feel we care but are not intruding is important.
  2. A visitors’ book is a simple way of inviting customers to comment. When left open, few people can resist reading other people’s comments, which can lead them to add their own.
  3. Feedback forms enable people to comment in their own time. These can be left with a customer, distributed with booking details or invoices, or sent separately.
  4. Online surveys can collect statistical information as well as comments. Many services enable you to set up a survey for free and email a link to people.
  5. It is a growing fashion for people to comment on businesses’ web sites or on community web sites, especially in the travel industry and in online commerce.

We should always make sure people are happy for their comments to be published.

Handling criticism

If we ask for people’s comments, we have to accept that everyone has a different idea of what is good and some will see our businesses differently to us. The value in this is to respond to criticism positively and see if there’s anything we can change to improve what we do. Very often, it can be as simple as improving the information we give.

Where people comment publicly, it can be beyond our control. Occasionally people get very fired up about a point and write a complaint that seems of all proportion to what actually happened or very one-sided. On some large web sites, it can be difficult to achieve any form of reasonable redress where a comment or complaint is unreasonable. The choice between whether to pursue the matter further without guarantee of any retraction or apology and the risk of unfairly biased publicity or whether to let the matter drop can be tough. This is a significant issue, especially in the areas of travel, leisure and online commerce, and emphasises the importance of complaining courteously.

However inaccurate, unfair or hurtful comments may seem, it’s important to retain our composure at all times and explain our point of view firmly and courteously. If you ask other business owners, nearly all will have had a similar experience.

When we care about our customers, it can seem like the end of the world, but it isn’t. Reasonable people will accept apologies and attempts to put things right. In fact, sometimes this can lead to them becoming one of your biggest fans when they see how much you care about customer satisfaction.

Genuine praise

What is important above all else is to give praise where it is deserved. There are many businesses in Ilfracombe which deserve this and we hope more people will be nominating these deserving businesses in the weeks ahead.

What do you think? Do you have comments or suggestions?

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