Thursday
Aug162012

How NOT to Treat Your Customers

We’ve all been through it…horrible customer experiences that have left us fuming and disappointed.  And we’ve told others about these terrible ordeals, hoping that we’ve convinced them that the establishment in question isn’t worth visiting or spending their hard-earned money at. 

If you have a business, it’s important that you and your staff know how to deal with unhappy customers, especially if your goal is to bring new and repeat traffic into your store.  After all, a lot of business is created via word of mouth, so being able to handle problems effectively is key.

Here are some important steps to follow when dealing with customers who have problems:

  1. Listen with empathy and respect
  2. Don’t make excuses or place blame
  3. Ask what you can do to resolve the issue
  4. Make things right, or find a good compromise
  5. Learn from the situation – find the root cause—and fix it forever

As a working example, I’ll use a dining experience my husband and I shared just this past weekend.  Because of the way our problem was handled, we will never visit this establishment again.  I’ll try to point out some big customer service mistakes made along the way…

As parents of a young toddler, if there is an opportunity for us to have a “date night”, we’re going to take it!  Thanks to a visit from my parents, we headed to a highly-rated restaurant and started our evening with a couple of good appetizers.  Our experience took a sharp nosedive when we received our entrees, a grilled trio of duck, shrimp and steak, all served with various accoutrements.  After eating the duck and shrimp, we both noticed that our steaks, which we had ordered medium, were actually well done and virtually inedible (WE could grill steaks better than this at home—and at a quarter of the cost of our entire meal!).  After flagging down our waiter, we politely asked him if we had ordered them medium.  He assured us that we had and confirmed that they didn’t look like they were prepared correctly.  He said he would go to speak with the manager.  After quite some time, he returned and told us that the manager had told him to offer us a free dessert.  My husband asked if they were going to replace the steaks and he said that he couldn’t and he was sorry. 

Okay, this was an opportunity for our server.  Instead of relaying information, he should have brought his manager to our table to speak with us directly, especially when he himself acknowledged the problem.  The manager could then see our dishes first-hand and possibly have solved the problem.

Dumbfounded, we sat there, silently fuming, knowing that we were paying a lot for a meal that we were unable to finish (to make matters worse, I didn’t like the taste of one of the other components of my trio, and had only eaten one of the three items; I was hungry!).

When our meal was done, we again waited for our server.  When he returned, he plopped a small dessert plate and two spoons in front of us, announcing it was on the house.  Yes, this was a dessert of THEIR choosing, and only ONE dessert, when they had messed up TWO orders.  By this point, we were really upset.  My husband quietly expressed his disappointment, to which the server responded, “I’m sorry, but my manager…” 

Not good enough, folks. Making excuses is not the way to interact with disgruntled customers; it only makes them more upset and doesn’t solve anything.  He still had an opportunity to put us in touch with his manager, even though he deemed this situation “out of his hands”.

We paid our bill, leaving a meager tip and a note about our bad experience, and just happened to pass the manager on our way out.  We calmly told him what happened and he immediately stated that there must have been a miscommunication between him and the server—he didn’t realize it was such a big deal to us.  He then stated that he had seen our plates when they came out of the kitchen and they were indeed cooked to order.  He then inferred that we had let them sit too long and should have spoken up sooner because the steaks had continued to cook, which was why there were well done.

I’m not sure if you caught that, but in addition to making excuses, the manager was blaming US for the problem, rather than listening with empathy.  These are all big no no’s with regard to customer service.  What he should have done was apologize and ask what he could do to help us; how could he make things right.

We took the initiative here and explained that we weren’t looking to get a free meal or cheat the restaurant out of anything.  We only wanted what we had paid for:  we wanted to have the steaks replaced and cooked how we had ordered them.  That hadn’t happened.

As we were already leaving, doing this was no longer possible.  But what could have been done to regain our trust and respect?  He could have offered us the same meal at a discount on another visit.  Or something to that effect…something to bring us back through the doors to give them another chance to win us over and make us loyal customers.  But this manager was more concerned about being right than treating his customers well—and the concept of customer loyalty didn’t seem to be of concern to him.

He really had nothing else to say at this point and didn’t seem interested in helping us, so we decided to just leave.  As we were walking away, I heard him say, “Have a nice life…”

Now, would anyone in their right mind, after being treated this way, have any desire to return?  Would they recommend this business to others?  I think not.  In our case, we’re going to warn people away so that the same thing doesn’t happen to them.

As a business owner, it’s important to be prepared for situations when your customers’ expectations are not met.  How are you, and your staff, going to handle customer complaints in a manner that allows you to continue to gain loyal patrons?   Have you trained your employees on what to do, and say, if they encounter unhappy customers? 

Following the steps above is a good start.  I highly encourage you to make step number five a part of your regular business practice.  Identify what caused the problem in the first place and fix it.  Whether it is a training issue, or a process, ensure that it is corrected so that it doesn’t happen again.  In the long run, you’ll be glad you did.  After all, statistics show that many customers who have problems resolved effectively actually become even more loyal customers in the end.  

Thursday
Aug162012

Healthy Snacks on the Go

Oh no!  I’m late!

You woke up late, or the kids got you on the wrong track this morning.  You leave the house rushed and realize you forgot your breakfast!  So, frustrated and hungry, you go to the nearest C-Store and go in…..all you want is a piece of fruit and a yogurt, or maybe you will do a donut, just this once! 

I love junk food just as much as the next person!  It is difficult to turn down a chocolate bar, even on my best days, so when I am starving, in a hurry and need to grab a quick bite to eat, I am going to go where I can at least have the option of choosing something healthy to eat.

Healthy snacks!  With obesity issues on the rise and everyone trying to figure out how they can eat “more healthy,” why is it so hard to find foods that are good for you at your local convenience store?  Even though, as a nation, we are beginning to focus more on eating healthy, we have not changed our habits of being on-the-go!  We still want the convenience of the quick grab-and-run snack, but we are more thoughtful in the items we choose.  I know that I personally want to be able to find a piece of fruit, a protein bar—or even a healthy smoothie—to get me going for the day.  I find myself seeking out the convenience stores that offer me a variety of healthy snacks to choose from. 

If you’re an owner or operator of a C-store, I urge you to carefully consider how you can appeal to this changing trend.  You might be surprised at an increase in traffic!  I know, speaking for myself, that those healthy options would more likely get me into your store—and keep me coming back—even if I do partake of the ole’ candy bar once in a while.

Taking that into consideration, how does your store rate?

 

Wednesday
Jul182012

Standing Up for Our Industry and Our Customers 

In the petroleum marketing world, nothing indicates the advent of summer more than the annual MPCA “Lobby Day”.  This year was no exception.  Attendees from CarterEnergy and many of our customers from across the State attended the event in Jefferson City, Missouri and we had many issues we wanted to address with our State representatives.  Besides the topic of “Obama-care,” other issues included Roll-Your-Own Tobacco and Tobacco Tax increases, the Commercialization of Interstate Rest Areas and E-15, among numerous others.

I have participated in Lobby Day for many years and always find it interesting and rewarding.  Few activities enable a gathering of like-minded petroleum-industry professions from across the state to work for a common, mutually beneficial purpose with the folks that can actually influence policy. The 2012 Lobby Day was especially important, given the economic conditions that we operate in and the sharp divide between the folks that support our industry and the ones that would like to see us disappear. The November elections are probably the most crucial in history for the life and vitality of the energy business.

 

The CarterEnergy Team will always be working on your behalf at these events.  However, every year I recommend to our Associates, as well as you, our customers, to get involved with your State Association and attend meetings and legislative events.  It’s up to all of us to shape the narrative of the positive things that our industry delivers in terms of reliable and affordable fuel for transportation, along with employment and economic activity. 

 

When you personally and proactively engage your State representatives, you become part of the process of preserving and shaping our industry.

Monday
Jul162012

In the Event of an Emergency…

On June 6th, Shell reps visited CarterEnergy’s offices with a very important message about safety.  On that very day, 250,000 Shell employees around the world were observing Shell’s Annual Safety Day.  They wanted to take things further this year by getting their customers involved and conducted a special educational session for our Associates.  

The biggest lesson of the day was this:  You might know what do to if an emergency strikes while you are on the job, but what about when you are at home with your family??? 

With the assistance of Charles, a volunteer for the American Red Cross, I and my fellow Associates in attendance learned some interesting facts and statistics about the types of emergencies that could affect us.  We were also provided with a weather radio/flashlight, and several reference guides to help us create emergency kits (Who would have thought that you should have CASH on hand, let alone medication and copies of birth and marriage certificates?), as well as educate us on the proper ways to respond, should an emergency occur in our home or neighborhood.  

Dealing with fuel products on a daily basis, the topic of Safety is top of mind at CarterEnergy.  In fact, our Safety Statement governs what we will and will not do with regard to our operations:  

 

There is nothing we do commercially at CarterEnergy that is worthy of

compromising the well being of a human life or the environment.

~Bryan Beaver, CEO, CarterEnergy

 

Our drivers are trained extensively on the safe handling of hazardous materials, as well as spill prevention and clean-up.  We practice safety not only around fuel deliveries, but company-wide on topics such as proper lifting, driving during severe conditions, avoiding slips and falls, and weather-related health issues.  

As a business, how do you address the issue of safety with your managers and employees?  Do you have a plan in place if something were to occur at your business, store, or on your property, such as a slip or a fall, a robbery or other altercation, a fuel spill, fire, fender bender, weather emergency, etc.?  Have you communicated the steps that should be taken in your employee training procedures (other than telling them to call 911)?  Is your insurance policy up-to-date?  Do you have emergency contact numbers listed in a location where they are easy to find?  

And what about your own personal emergency preparedness?  Do you have the proper supplies (food, water, first aid supplies, trash bags, bleach, personal hygiene items, important papers, important phone numbers, etc.) gathered in a single location in your basement or designated “safe” zone?  Have you discussed and tested multiple emergency escape routes from your home with your family members?  Do you have fresh batteries in all of your alarms, smoke detectors, flashlights and weather radios?  Are you ready in the event that an emergency should strike, especially during the night? 

Being prepared (both physically and mentally) can save everyone involved a lot of confusion—and help keep yourself, your family, your employees, and your customers safe, no matter where you are.  And, the short time required to plan ahead far outweighs the inconvenience of dealing with the after effects.  

I know that I will be working on that emergency kit very, very soon.  Will you?

 

 

Additional Reading:

People Should Prepare Now for Next Disaster, The American Red Cross

 

Monday
Jul022012

Lottery: It’s More Than Fun and Games

I was just a kid when Lottery came to Missouri, my home state. I remember selling scratchers out of one of the stores my family owned in the late 80’s. By the time Arkansas and Oklahoma added it, I was an adult in the Wholesale Fuels and Distribution industry.

Today, Lottery is available in most states and is an integral part of most c-store offerings.

There are a multitude of games, both paper and electronic, with multiple denominations and secondary chances to win. As Lottery continues to grow and change, I think it is worthwhile to visit some basic controls retailers should employ when it comes to offering Lottery.

Know your Lottery Rep

They are your first wave of defense. Reps are trained to help you with controls. They deal with a variety of issues with retailers of all shapes and sizes and will likely be the first to know about new threats and scams. Your rep will have a wealth of tools and strategies to help you effectively promote Lottery and safeguard your inventory.

Control your scratcher inventory

Control your tickets from receipt, to the safe, to the counter, to the sale. Train all of your employees to account for tickets by shift. Track by game, pack number and denomination, balancing all sales back to the register. If you currently are not keeping an effective perpetual inventory over your tickets, see your Lottery rep or your CarterEnergy Area Manager for help.

Know your reports

The state Lottery systems offer many daily reports that can help you keep control over your tickets and Power Ball/Mega Millions sales. Make sure you are using them to the fullest extent. 

Deface winning scratchers

A winning ticket that has already been paid may be re-presented to the Lottery and be paid again at a cost to you. Make sure that winning tickets paid at your location are defaced by removing or covering the bar code.

Balance Paid Outs 

Keep defaced winning tickets that are paid out for a daily reconciliation.

I encourage you to be diligent when accounting for Lottery transactions. It takes a lot of scratcher sales to make up for the loss of even a single $20 ticket. Please let us know if we can help you strengthen controls in this, or any other area inside your store.

 

Special thanks to Leah Hamilton with the Missouri Lottery for her help with this post.

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