Ask anyone who works with the public and they will tell you that one of the keys to survival is having a good sense of humor and the ability to let criticism roll off your back. I learned this lesson quickly when I operated businesses in Bar Harbor during the summer tourist season.
I love people. If I didn’t I never would have operated an inn or a tour boat business. I’m the one who says during a job interview , “I’m a people person”. I’m also a people pleaser. I truly believe in offering the very best customer service possible.
This is likely true for you as well. It’s also likely that you prefer positive feedback over criticism - don’t we all! But we have to keep in mind that we can’t be everything to everybody - that we can’t please all of the people all of the time. In my ten years in the summer tourism business I can count on one hand the customers who weren’t happy with me or my services. 99.9% of my customers were fabulous and thrilled with everything. The remaining few just weren’t happy and there was nothing I could do to please them. Every business owner will encounter an unhappy customer. Sometimes the cause of their unhappiness is something you did or didn’t do for them - sometimes they are the type of people who just can’t be pleased. I had several who were just playing “complaint games” to try to get freebies out of me. I caught on to that pretty quickly! It’s difficult dealing with difficult customers. It’s difficult not to personalize it, it’s difficult not to let it bring down your day!
Here’s how I learned to deal with it. First and foremost try to find out why the customer is unhappy. Really listen to their complaint without getting defensive. Make it clear that you want to make it right. Then do what you can to fix the problem. If the problem isn’t something you can fix - offer another way to remedy the situation - so at the very least they will feel that you took care of them in some way. This may mean giving a refund or freebie and that’s ok when the circumstances call for it. Sometimes it’s just better to lose a little money and end the situation so you can move on and focus on your other customers.
I had several guests at the Inn who were not happy because there were some services they were looking for that my property didn’t provide - such as a restaurant, bar or room service. Rather than having an unhappy guest - I would offer to find them a location more suitable to their needs and refund their deposit. They left feeling satisfied with the way I handled the situation and I was left with an Inn full of guests who genuinely wanted to be there and that made my life easier and their stay more pleasant!
People are people. In business - most are great to be around - others challenge your patience. I can tell you stories about some customers that you “just can’t make up”. But they taught me a lot about patience, humor and resilience. It never failed that when I would encounter a difficult customer and question “Why do I do this?”, the next customer would be a very happy one - thrilled and thankful for the experience I gave them and I would think to myself - “This is why.”