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How to handle customer complaints & avoid developing a ‘fawlty’ reputation!

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There’s quite possibly no-one quite as infamous for providing poor customer service than manic hotelier Basil Fawlty! His rude and highly intolerant behaviour towards guests helped the fictitious hotel Fawlty Towers build quite a reputation for itself - but for all the wrong reasons.

In this classic scene, Basil delivers a true master class in how not to handle customer complaints.

Whilst his behaviour is, of course, somewhat extreme (!), the clip does actually highlight some really valuable lessons in handling customer complaints, which can be applied to real-life situations.

Basil would have been well advised to follow our top tips!

1. Listen

It’s vital to ensure that the customer knows that you are listening to their problems, taking their complaint seriously and trying to reach a resolution. Whilst Basil’s very obviously rude manner towards his guest is something we’d hopefully all strive to avoid, it’s important to make sure you don’t subconsciously engage in any ‘fawlty’ behaviour! Sighing or rolling your eyes suggests to the customer that you are uninterested in their concerns, so avoid such activities at all costs. Also, be aware of the more subtle signals your body language is delivering. Folding your arms, for example, can appear defensive, so aim for a more open position to show the customer that you are interested and care about their concerns.

2. Remain composed

Basil’s approach to handling his customer’s complaint is far from calm! Instead, he allows himself to become more and more agitated as the guest lists her various concerns. Whilst of course it is easy to become stressed in such situations, it’s vital to remain composed. If you feel yourself becoming angry and have the appropriate opportunity to take a minute or two to calm down before resuming the handling of the complaint, it can be beneficial to take the chance to re-focus your mind.

3. Apologise

There’s one magic word that Basil fails to say to his customer and that is ‘sorry’. Although he clearly doesn’t agree with her point of view, in such a situation in real life, an apology should still be offered. If you feel a customer’s complaint is unreasonable, a sensible response is ‘I’m sorry you feel that way’. This should help to calm the atmosphere and again shows the customer that you are listening and handling the complaint with concern and care.

4. Take responsibility

As Basil leaves his customer’s room he informs her that if she wants to take the complaint any further she must speak to his wife, Sybil. Whilst you may on occasion need to involve another member of staff in the handling of the complaint, as the customer’s first point of contact, it’s good practice to take personal responsibility for ensuring a resolution is reached.

5. Offer a discount or other benefit

Basil’s customer offers him the chance to reach a resolution by suggesting she receives a discount on the price of the room, but of course he can’t resist taking the opportunity to mock! However, her suggestion is actually very sensible, as offering dissatisfied customers compensation in the form of a discount or gift card can go a long way in helping ease negative feelings. It needn’t necessarily be a lot, but it can really help in ensuring the customer isn’t tempted to turn away from your business altogether.

6. Keep a record

We’re not sure if Basil kept a record of the complaints he received, but somehow we doubt it’s one of his top priorities! However, to ensure you are able to learn from any mistakes, it’s vital to log complaints to allow analysis of the issues causing problems and identification of the changes necessary for improvement.

Whilst thankfully Basil is almost definitely a one-off in terms of his exceptionally rude behaviour towards his guests, this classic comedy scene really does demonstrate some important points about handling customer complaints from which we can all learn. Follow our tips and make sure your business doesn’t develop a ‘fawlty’ reputation!

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Published on 22/12/2012 by Emma Harle.

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