Stuff that occurs to me

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Think of this blog as a sort of nursery for my half-baked ideas hence 'stuff that occurs to me'.

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Thursday, 12 April 2012

On the inability to accept praise - advice to businesses

I was writing this on the ferry home and thinking about customer service, complaints and feedback. I've no complaints about Thames Clippers' ferry service or customer service although I have previously pointed out that their marketing emails have been a bit bizarre although they've recently got miles better.

This is a wider point on organisations expecting complaints (fair enough, they are usually more time-sensitive than pleasant comments and need to be handled) but not really having any kind of mechanism in place to handle compliments, or seemingly even the expectation of receiving any. 

I shall illustrate this with two anecdotes that have become immortalised in my family as mildly amusing tales that we retell each other every so often.

1. Wha's rang noo?
My mum had a lovely lunchtime meal in a cafe in Glasgow while visiting family. At the end of the meal the waitress asked her if she'd enjoyed the meal.* Mum said she had and that she was having a lovely nostalgic time (she grew up in Scotland) and she'd like to pass on her compliments to the manager if possible.

At this point in the retelling we'd all start giggling (cos we knew what came next). The waitress, with my mum in earshot, popped behind a panel to tell the manager that "there's a lady who wants to speak to you" to which the manager replied, sighing, "wha's rang noo?" (what's wrong now?) which my mum found amusing, and rather telling.

2. Um... yes, I'll just put you through to the complaints department.
My dad's car was a bit overcaffeinated in that it seemed to run more on battery power than petrol and it kept 'not working'.  I don't know what was wrong with it (I never learned to drive) but the battery appeared to ambiently discharge itself overnight even though nothing had been left switched on. 

Eventually my dad called the RAC and someone turned up promptly, swapped some bits and bobs around (I like to think there was some dramatic soldering involved but probably not) and within an hour dad's car worked again and the engineer was on his way.

Dad was very pleased and rang the RAC again to say thanks for a job well done. He asked the receptionist who he could talk to to pass on a compliment?

Receptionist: "...?...?..." 

Dad: "OK then, some feedback?"

Receptionist: "I'll put you through to the complaints department" 

Dad: "But it's not a complaint, the service was prompt and efficient and the car's working." 

Receptionist: "Um... yes, I'll just put you through to the complaints department." 

So dad explained to the complaints department that he'd had a nice experience and wanted to pass this on to someone. This apparently threw them...

Having feedback framed only in terms of complaints seems odd, no? Of course all organisations need to have a way of handling complaints - these can be warning flags that something is not well and needs prompt fixing or possibly damage limitation - but how do organisations handle positive feedback? And how are they seen to handle positive feedback, within and outside the organisation? Is it shared (systematically I mean, not just "oh look we got this nice email from someone") but added to some sort of potentially searchable database (in the same way that complaint histories might be recorded, because they required an exchange of correspondence or an official response) available to all staff and actively shared with them?

Incidentally if people type "complaint" into your organisation's website search are they taken to a page that says "complaints" or "feedback"?

*I'm not sure if this was the same waitress who once asked my mum "could yiz have went mair?" (could you have had more?) at the end of a meal but our pool of family anecdotes definitely suffers from some cross-contamination.


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