Feature Article - September 2005
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A Field Guide to Patrons

Tips for keeping customers happy

Sometimes a customer isn't looking for service but a swindle. They plan to get away with something, preferably for free. These are the Something-for-Nothing Customers. They often exhibit similar characteristics to the Bully, but they have a glimmer in their eye: The SFNs come with a purpose. Oh, these types can be frustrating.

Like the Bullies, you want to take these people aside to talk, if possible.

"If he's asking for something for free, there are five people behind him taking notes," Soisson says. So, be prepared with facts.

"Your staff better be trained on all policies and why they exist," Soisson says. Like if it rains all week at your golf resort, and someone comes to you demanding another week for free. Your policy probably explains that inclement weather is not grounds for a refund, and your staff can simply and sweetly fall back on that.

On the other hand, be prepared to give a little.

"Sometimes these people just want something, anything," Soisson says. Empower your staff to have some offers at-the-ready that keep the peace but don't cost too much.

"For example, an hour of free court time doesn't lose you money, but an hour massage would," Soisson points out.

If this customer is one who's been known to hoodwink you in the past, then it's time to put a stop to it. Speak to the person and consider banning the person from your facility. Still, be careful not to over-react.

"These situations have to be examined case by case," Carnabucci says, though every circumstance, of course, must be handled with professionalism and courtesy.

"Sometimes we have to give the customer the benefit of the doubt," adds Griffin, pointing out that word-of-mouth can go both ways. She recommends facilities create a system that makes it easy to trust your customers, while also verifying what they're telling you. It might be a policy of requiring a receipt to return pro-shop merchandise or a confirmation number to prove a reservation.

"I'd rather go a little bit out there, hoping they're trustworthy, as opposed to making a snap judgment, which can do more harm than good," Griffin adds. Of course, if you suspect foul play, you don't have to encourage these customers to come back.

"There's a subtle happy medium in there," she says.

From Complaint to Compliment

All too often, managers view criticism as a negative, while, in fact, it can be extremely helpful.

"This is feedback for the organization," says Karen Carnabucci, MSS, LCSW, owner of Companions in Healing. If complaints are documented, you may notice that there are a bunch that concern one area of your facility or services. Maybe a policy needs to be reviewed, or your marketing tactics are misleading.

"There may be a policy overall that needs to be changed," Carnabucci says. "Some companies pay thousands and thousands of dollars to get user feedback, and you're getting this feedback for free."

Use it to your advantage.