A complaint is a gift
Apr 22nd 2004
And Americans get better service than Brits because they know how to give it
AUSTRALIANS call the British “whingeing Poms” because they grumble so much. But a new study suggests that Brits should whinge more, not less.
A team led by Chris Voss of the London Business School found that service quality in Britain is typically worse than in America. One reason, the research suggests, is that British customers complain less about bad service than hard-to-please Americans do.
The failure to grouse is pervasive. Hunter Hansen, an American who runs the Marriott hotel in London's Grosvenor Square, notes that a British guest would make a fuss only about a significant problem—and even then, would do so in a roundabout way. Americans are critical of even small mistakes.
The result, Mr Voss finds, is that Brits suffer. But so do companies in Britain's service industries: they do not receive so much unsolicited feedback, and thus lose a chance to improve service quality. Indeed, they may spend more than they need to do on service-quality improvements, because they do not get direct help from customers.
Management gurus know more about how companies respond to complaints than about why the British are
phlegmatic. In America, well-run companies have “service recovery” strategies. Staff at the Marriott group are drilled in the LEARN routine—Listen, Empathise, Apologise, React, Notify—with the final step ensuring that the complaint is fed back into the system. The Ritz-Carlton hotel chain, another with a good reputation for handling complaints from customers, trains its staff not to say a mere “sorry” but “please accept my apology” and gives them a budget to reimburse cross guests.
When Brits finally screw up their courage to grouse, they get results. Mr Voss told his doctor that he would appreciate speedier feedback after a consultation. “The next time round, I got it,” he says, in mild surprise.