Cap the Comps

 By Peggy Wynne Borgman, CEO, Preston Wynne, Inc.

One of our most frustrating line items are "comps" we issue to provide recompense for customer service errors. Our "comp" line on the P & L includes discounts, refunds, or fully comp'd appointments. Because customer complaints are so personal, it's impossible to create a chart that declares, "if the spa makes mistake X, give the customer discount Z or refund Y" and so on. Complaint resolution is by its very nature--ambiguous!

So how can you squeeze some of the ambiguity out of the process? Every customer's issue is unique, and so is their reaction to it. There is a tendency on the part of less confident staff members to "throw money at the problem," which of course doesn't solve the problem, and creates another one. The most crucial tool for reducing comps and increasing customer satisfaction is listening. But it's hard to listen effectively when you're stressed. One thing to remember is that customers need to vent, so providing them the "space" to do so (both literally and figuratively) is essential. Only after they're done venting can the problem solving begin. Let's hope the spa concierge isn't so rattled she start throwing handfuls of cash at the customer in hopes of making her go away.

The best way to prepare your employees for these inevitable stressful moments is to do drills, the preferred method of preparing for emergencies in first responder training. Let's face it; an angry customer triggers a flow of adrenaline comparable to some of the most frightening situations we can face in "real life".

We've begun to review "case studies" of customer service scenarios, engaging members of both our support teams and our therapeutic teams in the exercises. These scenarios are "torn from today's headlines;" incidents that actually happened in the spa. Small discussion groups review the same scenario and develop an array of responses, then reconvene to compare the merits of the various approaches.

The most important learning here takes place as employees begin to understand the most effective strategy and thought process, rather than memorize the precise form of recompense used in a given customer crisis.

An excellent esthetician who was nonetheless cavalier about "comping" an unhappy client over an incident that was not the spa's fault learned, through discussion, that giving away services so freely hurts the company and may not even be the best way to heal the relationship with the guest. When asked if she was willing to give up her own compensation for the appointment to appease the guest, the realization dawned on the esthetician that the money has to come from somewhere.

A concierge discovered that being overly inquisitive of an unhappy client in order to control excessive comp's made the guest angrier.
Often the customer service scenarios include both the support and therapeutic teams. Only when both teams understand the complex interaction between the front and back of the house can we problem solve effectively and confidently. Teamwork is critical during a crisis, and these case studies highlight the need to work cooperatively. Discussions were lively and highly productive. Simmering resentments often harbored by many spa support and service provider teams can be aired and cooled by this process.

The learnings from the discussion were captured on large Post-It posters by a scribe for each group, and are translated, for training purposes, into our employee manual.
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