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Thursday, January 28, 2010

How to Handle Angry Parents

If you're like me, customer service is a big part of your camp's marketing strategy. But even though we try to exceed our customer's expectations, sometimes we fall short. An occasional upset parent, unfortunately, is part of camp life.

Play your cards right, and an angry customer can be a blessing in disguise. At least they've taken the time to express their concerns. Most pissed off customers will never speak up; they'll just tell their friends about the poor experience they had with you and sign up with your competitor instead.

It's hard to take, especially if someone's flying off the handle. But when a displeased customer voices a complaint, they're in essence sharing with you a way to improve your camp. You can use this situation as a starting point to reestablish a long-term relationship with them, win back a potentially valuable customer, and gain valuable feedback so you're able to make whatever improvements are necessary to ensure other families don't get upset about the same thing in the future.

There's lots of ways to handle upset parents. The following 4-step process works best for me:

  1. Let the angry parent vent/express their dissatisfaction;
  2. Make sure they know you understand they're upset ("I can tell we didn't meet your expectations. I'm very sorry about that...");
  3. Ask them what you can do to set the situation right ("What can we do to make this better for you?"); and finally
  4. Restate your understanding of the problem, and offer them something of value for their trouble. ("I'm sorry again this happened. I promise we'll do better in future. For now, I just want to reiterate how badly I feel for your trouble, so how about a free day of camp on us?")

Typically this approach works like a charm. Last summer, I remember this one mom was really pissed because her kid kept coming home sunburn from Aloha Beach Camp. Never mind the fact he was 14, more than capable of putting on his own sunscreen, and the only 14-year-old at camp who ever got REMOTELY sunburned.

But in her mind, the kid's mom thought our staff should've been done better. She wanted us to physically apply the kid's sunscreen for him at least 5 times a day.

Irrational? Maybe.

But to her, an important thing.

So I took the steps outlined above to calmed her down. We made sure the kid stopped getting sunburned. And then she was happy as a clam. (Not just that, the kid's coming back to camp again this summer with 6 other friends the mom referred...Can't beat that!)

So anyway, like I said, there's more than one way to skin a cat. So here's a few resources to check out when you get a minute. And feel free to share your own stories and experiences about dealing with angry parents at camp. I'm sure others would love to hear them! :)

Business Know-How's 10 Powerful Steps to Diffuse Angry Customers
Score.org's Guide to Managing Angry Customers
WikiAnswers How to Deal with Angry Customers
BusinessWeek's Guide to Dealing with Angry Customers
Seth Godin's Blog Post on How to Deal with an Angry Customer

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