Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Sometimes it pays to be wrong

Just quietly sitting like a little fly on the wall you can overhear some of the strangest conversations. Recently while trying to get my hair cut at a major franchise salon business I was sitting in the chair waiting for the stylist to start when a customer came in who had supposedly made an appointment with a specific stylist who we will name “Missy” to protect the innocent.

The stylist was not there because she was not scheduled to work on Saturdays. Now by itself this really was not a major problem, true the customer might have been upset and annoyed that she had made the mistake of arriving on the day that the stylist did not work, but the problem escalated like a fire out of control in dry brush when the manager intervened in an attempt to rectify the problem.

Keep in mind that the customer was positive that they had their hair done by the stylist on Saturday afternoons due to the fact they worked locally and it was the only time that they were able to get off from work to come have their hair done. Now I am by no means a hairstylist or a beauty shop manager, but common sense dictates that when you have an irate customer you try everything to defuse the situation not to exacerbate it.

Instead of simply replying back to the customer that “I’m sorry but Missy isn’t in today, her schedule now is during the weekdays. Would you like me to make an appointment for you on a day that she’s available?” The manager of the beauty salon instead took an immediate defensive position and in effect accused the customer of being a liar by saying “I do all the scheduling and Missy has never worked on a weekend. She has children and can’t arrange for a babysitter so she only works Monday through Friday! You had to have come in on a Monday through Friday if Missy ever did your hair!”

Now it’s bad enough that the customer feels slighted that they will not have their favorite hairstylist taking care of the mop on top of their head, but now they have an sarcastic comment by someone who’s supposed to be in charge of effectively accusing them of not knowing what they’re talking about. Probably without a doubt the manager was correct, if she indeed does the scheduling she would know when Missy works and when Missy does not work. But what is amazing is that the manager was willing to create a confrontational situation where it could have been avoided simply by agreeing that Missy was not there that day and could be found in the salon on these specific days.

In an attempt to always be right and never give up an inch of ground many managers create their own nightmares by putting the customer on the offensive by being accusatory. What is the real gain in a situation like? If you are in a position of customer service remember that many times the customer’s wrong in their perception of how things are done or were done. But what is gained by arguing with them even if you are correct and they are not? You may win the battle but in the long term you lose the war when the customer who is now embarrassed feels that it is just easier not to do business with you.

A sad part of this is that now the consumer instead of being an advocate of your company becomes an immediate detractor and does not hesitate to tell other perspective clients of the dissatisfaction with the way you as a manager handled the situation. Pride is a major problem for many people but as a manager it is a problem that we must swallow and get past if we are to defuse situations that could be nothing more than a simple bump, instead of letting them turn into full-blown wars in which there are no winners only losers.

This battle took place in a simple hair salon the cost of a victory will be paid in the defeat of losing a customer who cuts their hair every month but beyond that the ramifications of the bad publicity through word-of-mouth by the jilted customer that this will bring that particular salon by the circle of influence that the customer who was offended has, will have a greater impact than simply annoying one customer in a simple so long.

If this is the general strategy of the management of this company they are going to have to market more heavily in order to gain replacement customers for those that they are running off by their defensive “we are correct attitude.”

Sometimes it pays to be wrong.


  1. I experienced something very similar. I ate lunch at a favorite Mexican restaurant recently. While waiting for our order, we noticed that the complimentary chips were a bit stale.

    We asked the hostess (owner?) who was walking by if we could get more. She told us they weren't stale. I told her I thought they were and suggested she try one. She did, and maintained her position that they weren't stale, and they couldn't be stale because she gets them in every morning. She basically argued with me about a bowl of chips that cost so little that they're given away free EVERYWHERE! Not only argued, but in effect suggested I was either trying to deceive her, or too stupid to recognize good quality food.

    She lost a regular customer over a bowl of chips, and I must have told the story 10 times already.

  2. Here's my story: I called my (previously) favorite local pizza joint to order a pizza to pick up. I've called them so much that I created an entry for them in my blackberry address book to save time. But this time they didn't have my order when I arrived to pick up the pizza. The counter woman said I must have called the "other" Carmine's Pizza. So I showed her my blackberry phone log which showed "Carmines Pizza" and the right phone number. Nevertheless she wasn't convinced. So I suggested she check their phone's caller id. She checked while another counter person took my order, and then she never came back to the counter to report to me. I'd love to know what she found! While I was waiting my friend Tom came to pick up an order and I told him my story. Then another neighbor showed up and I repeated the story. The pizza people must have been getting tired of me. Finally the pizza was done and I paid. No discount. No apology.

    Their competitor across the street loves this story and seems to like my business, too.