Economy

Postmates chief tells customer to “f-ck off”: Four lessons in responding to customer complaints

Yolanda Redrup /

In business, customer service is key to keeping customers and building the business, but one chief executive in the United States forgot a cardinal rule of customer service – never swear at your customers.

Founder and chief executive of US postal business Postmates Bastian Lehmann was forced to send a slew of apology tweets on Sunday, after it was revealed on Twitter he’d told a customer to “f-ck off” via email.

Customer Erin Boudreau had emailed Postmates a complaint about a delivery. After reading Boudreau’s email, Lehmann instructed a staff member to tell her to “f-ck off”.

Unfortunately for Lehmann, his email made its way back to Boudreau who then posted his response online.

This kicked off a string of apologies from Lehman, who has also since written a public blog post and sent a personal apology email to the customer.

In the blog post Lehmann tries to say this part of his response was a “joke”, although admits it was a “major lapse in judgement”.

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On Twitter he also said it had been a stressful day and his actions were a “total fail”.

Stressful day or not, neither Boudreau nor other commenters believe Lehmann’s message was a joke, but it does provide some valuable lessons in dealing with customers.

Australian Institute of Management Victoria and Tasmania branch chief executive Tony Gleeson spoke to SmartCompany about how to address customers who give negative feedback.

Respect

Customers are the life of any business and unsurprisingly they need to be respected.

“You have to listen and endeavour to show that you’re listening to the customer,” Gleeson says.

“Treat them with and show them respect.”

A business needs to both acquire and retain customers, so treating them well will place a business in good stead in the long run.

Respond promptly

Gleeson says if a business receives a complaint, they should respond quickly.

“You need to respond in some format within 24 hours ideally. The longer you leave it, the more the person’s frustration will grow,” he says.

“Today people are more and more aware of their rights and what they can and can’t do. They expect to be at least responded to within a reasonable timeframe.”

Gleeson says from the business owner’s perspective, if they disagree with the complaint, be sure to state your case politely.

“The manager should set out their case and explain their view as to why the situation has happened. Most people go to social media if they are displeased, so you have to be prepared for that word of mouth.”

Create customer service guidelines

Gleeson says to enable all staff to adequately deal with customer complaints, businesses should have a guideline employees can follow.

“Customers are your core provider. If you disengage with them, it impacts not only upon them but also affects your bottom line,” he says.

“You need to have a customer service charter which outlines how to respond. You should be upfront and honest when people raise concerns and recognise you’ve made a mistake in situations like this.”

Emotional intelligence

Gleeson says business owners need to recognise if they’re going to suffer some criticisms and think carefully about how they respond to complaints.

“One of the aspects is the pace of running a business being so quick and this makes some people just not think as much as they need to,” he says.

“But there is also the point of having some emotional intelligence. Some business owners tend to make money quick, but also lose money quick because they’re not good at dealing with customers.”

Gleeson says to improve your emotional intelligence, people need to invest in themselves and take time to de-stress.

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