How to handle disgruntled customers – Ollie style

Last night I reached my tolerance of the First Great Western website’s new booking system and fired out a despondent tweet venting my frustration. You can read more about the concerns I have with this new system and the apparent lack of user testing (because I refuse to believe that anyone did test it) on my personal blog. This post is shared as an example of how to handle disgruntled customers, ranty tweets and general flack aimed at your organisation or brand.

This was Ollie’s reply to my original tweet, which I’m a little embarrassed to share given how dripping it was in passive aggression and general grumpiness:

I pretty quickly snapped out of my grump, in fact to be honest it may well have been the simple act of Ollie responding and showing he cared. Now, my rational brain is aware that a) Ollie is paid to do this job and b) he doesn’t┬áreally┬ácare about me at all, and yet it is still fooled (if you’re cynical) or reassured (if you’re not) that someone, another human being, cares. This pretty quickly took the wind out of my sails, and it was done almost instantly.

So feeling slightly ashamed of myself, and yet still annoyed with the changes, I offered in my response to share more information with whoever is responsible. I am quite obsessed with feedback, giving and receiving. I’m usually happy to offer or receive feedback, good or bad, and I make a point of trying to acknowledge good things too, like writing this post for example. I sent the following tweets:

I thought this would be the end of it, until @JamesMB joined in:

Ahh shucks, now at this point I’m feeling conflicted, I’m doubly ashamed of my ranting but also feeling slightly vindicated by James’ support. I’ve spoken to enough people about the new site to know I wasn’t the only one who isn’t keen, further vindicated by some of the responses. At this point though what does Ollie do? I guess he has two options: he can ignore James and hope he goes away (and let’s be honest there are lots of brands that would do that) or engage James in conversation. At this point he also has to be aware that James copied his response to me. Ollie doesn’t know if James and I know each other, see the world in the same way, have some sort of plot hatched between us – none of which was the case. Ollie responded as follows:

Again simple, textbook answer. Engage openly, acknowledge how person is feeling, accept no responsibility for it. Bingo. Ollie is *good* at his job. What then happens is quite remarkable, James appears to engage in almost a similar response to the one I did slightly earlier. He goes to great lengths to reassure Ollie that he appreciates his situation, acknowledges the efforts he has made, and lays the blame further up the hierarchical tree – something that Ollie obviously can’t do, even if he does think it (and we’ve nothing to suggest he does).

So there you have it, from my perspective a textbook lesson in how to engage disgruntled customers. You don’t need to take responsibility, you don’t need to be able to fix it, you don’t need to have any answers – you need to be open, honest, show some humour or personality (if that’s your style) and if you’re Ollie a little self deprecating. You also need to not take it personally and put yourself in your customer’s shoes.

My absolute favourite bit of this whole interaction is what followed an hour or so later, where both James and Ollie engaged in some heart warming banter. It’s social media relationship building at it’s best….not sure you can train this, suspect it is innate. I absolutely loved it:

I give you Ollie ladies and gentleman, a true gent, a social media professional of the highest order. A peace maker, a problem solver, a networker, communicator and relationship builder….now if only all of First Great Western was staffed by people like Ollie, I suspect in scenes reminiscent of Undercover Boss, Ollie could teach his Senior Management Team a thing or two. I hope they’re listening to him.

2 comments on “How to handle disgruntled customers – Ollie style”

Hello Georrge,

How delighted I am to see you blog about Ollie. He is gold. I first came across him when he had to deal with some chaos in Cardiff after 1000s more people took the train than expected after one of the Olympics Football matches. He stayed on hours after he was meant to finish and did an excellent job of directing VERY disgruntled customers to the right resources.

Since then he has replied to me a few times about train changes during the floods and always is as you say a gent.

Well done Ollie!


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