Calamity can provide an excellent customer service opportunity

I’m writing this in Datchet, Berkshire, where I’m stranded at home due to the flooding. My mail will not get here today, nor will there be a collection. The roads in and out are blocked. Occasionally, the power comes on so I can boil the kettle, but I have no milk for my coffee as supplies have not reached the local independent store. The Tesco Express is shopped out but I can’t get the car near there anyway. It’s a huge disruption to life. Service is not as usual.

It’s interesting to see how periods of inconvenience like this affect people’s behavior and there are lessons to be learned for selling and customer service. There is an automatic level of forgiveness because people are aware of and sympathise with the cause of the problem. No one is complaining to the shop managers. There are some complaints, though. On TV, I see residents of local communities being interviewed. Their styles normally follow one of two routes: stiff upper lip, or moaning minnie. When supplying customers, very often the one who shouts loudest gets served first. It’s the path of least resistance for the server, but it backfires in the long run. Heightened public complaints got the most sandbags delivered, but then the environment agencies refused to help where the negativity was perceived as abuse.

As a supplier, things can go wrong and supply can be affected. View it as an opportunity to display excellent communication. As soon as you know, let the customer know. Tell them why, what you are doing and when it will get better. Communicate with empathy, not arrogance. You may not get (or even deserve) forgiveness, but the customer is most frustrated when they just don’t know what’s going on.

Being on time to meetings is basic professionalism. But try this for even better impact on the customer; notify them with an apology that you expect to be five minutes late. This demonstrates excellent communication and high standards, as five minutes is forgivable to most. Then turn up on time! Close communication and specifics can turm a negative into a positive reflection on you.

Wait a minute, it’s stopped raining… no, my mistake. By the time you read this, Tescos maybe selling sandbags.

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