Are the school mums gossiping about you?

During a gloriously hot, summer afternoon I joined the other school mums for a picnic in the park whilst the kids burnt off their energy. We caught up with news and then started to talk about holidays. This prompted one mum to tell us about her bad experience with an airline which had overbooked her flight; and because she hadn’t advance-checked in she wasn’t allowed on it. The airline didn’t offer her an alternative flight and she was therefore £800 lighter in her pocket; we all remonstrated with her about not claiming but she shrugged her shoulders and said “I will never use them again”.

This was the catalyst for an exchange of bad customer service experiences with two mums explaining the struggles they had with certain “Branded” phone providers ending in a stark warning to never use the “named & shamed”. Another spoke about a family gathering at a local pub. The family disputed a bill listing food neither ordered nor eaten and were then treated appallingly by both a po-faced waitress and the manager. The net result was a refusal to use that pub again.

These situations tend to be the remit of big companies who think they can afford to bump along with bad or lazy customer service. They work on the basis that losing a few customers will be balanced out with the new ones they spend huge chunks of time and money chasing.

Personally I don’t think this is a good way to operate. Word of mouth recommendations are extremely powerful in securing new business and more cost effective; conversely a good drubbing by a bunch mums can send prospective customers running for the hills and the fallout can be dangerous in terms of reputation and ultimately the bottom line.

I’m not trying to suggest that you can get everything right. We’ve all had customers who are determined to find something wrong and hang you out to dry; and dealing with this sort of person can be soul-destroying. Add to that the many competing needs in a small business it can be tempting to stick your head in the sand when a customer flags up a problem. But investing a bit of time sorting out an unhappy customer is far better than being the school mums’ main topic of conversation. So don’t run for cover. Get the issue sorted and ask for feedback on how you dealt with it. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at the upbeat things a customer will tell you which in turn is an indication of what they will say to others.