One of the opportunities to negotiate which we all have from time to time is when we choose to make a complaint. The simple advice, if you are making the complaint, is that you should say what would put it right and if you are receiving the complaint, ask the complainant what you can do to take the issue away for them.
Near to where we are fortunate to have a holiday home in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales is a large meat processing business. Despite our usual meat-free day at least once a week, my wife and I are both enthusiastic carnivores and enjoy meat which we usually purchase from the excellent master butcher in our nearby village at a greater cost but far greater quality than a supermarket. The nearby meat processing business recently set up a shop which you can visit and buy from and they also offer online shopping. A few weeks ago, we had a visitor for the weekend and, knowing she loves steak, we dropped by the new shop to buy three steaks (one each, you see). Because I want to buy excellent produce and they claim to offer that, I had registered with this shop online as you do these days but when we arrived and asked for three steaks, we were told we could have two or four. “You see”, said the assistant, “they come in packs of two”. I was sorely tempted to use the response of that great Welsh comedian, Rhod Gilbert who, when confronted with a similar problem concerning potatoes, said to the shop manager: “No they don’t, you did that!”. After a bit of debate but no progress, we left and bought three sirloin steaks from our local master butcher – they were delicious and, even at his prices, exactly 40% less in price than they would have been at the new shop (had we been able to buy three, of course).
This meat processing business, as I am registered with them, sends me regular (almost daily) emails exhorting me to try their expensive wares. On the day I write, they sent me an offer to buy a 1.1 kilo Tomahawk steak at a reduction in price of 25%. “Shop now!” proclaimed the email. As I and my wife were planning a walk which would take us past this shop, I went online and put a steak in my virtual basket but on coming to pay and tick the box saying that I would pick it up later in the day, I was not able to complete the transaction. So, I called the shop. After three attempts which involved listening to that muzak no one loves, I was told that the offer was not available until tomorrow. I will not be near the place tomorrow and the mail-order option is relatively expensive for one item so I sadly decided no Tomahawk for us.
I decided, optimist that I am, to have a word on the telephone with Customer Services. I related that I had been disappointed at not being able to buy three steaks previously and that I wanted to buy a Tomahawk now in response to their email but couldn’t. The customer service person said that the web order says available tomorrow. So why, I asked, did you send me an email saying “Shop now”. The testy reply was “We can’t put everything in an email.” It seemed to me that the effective start date and duration of the offer might have been helpful. Eventually, after ten minutes of arguing with me during which I suggested that they might like to make the Tomahawk available to me today (rejected out of hand), she informed me that I “don’t fit our business model” (yes, really!) I managed to extract a very grudging apology from her for the erroneous email.
So, it’s all my fault: I am not the right model. I was not asked any questions so she knows nothing about me, my shopping preferences or spending pattern. Here I am writing about how awful the experience was when, with a bit of thought and application and good negotiating technique, I could have been their newest best friend and enthusiastic customer. If I had simply been asked the question “what can we do to make it right?” we know that 9 out of ten people ask for something which can be easily granted and the tendency towards ‘arguing to win’ which I experienced transforms into a dream selling opportunity.
The lesson here is, as with much about negotiation, listen, ask questions, seek to understand (as Oliver Wendell Holmes said: "It is the province of knowledge to speak. And it is the privilege of wisdom to listen”) then propose a remedy which meets the customer’s needs – attach conditions if you will – I would have happily agreed to write a recommendation on their website or Trustpilot or both, I would have agreed to buy more than one big steak. But never waste the opportunity to turn around dissatisfaction by arguing, being defensive and apportioning blame – whatever else that may be, it is not customer service.
In case you have not seen it, here is the YouTube link to Rhod Gilbert’s wonderful observations on a similar situation, do listen to it.