by Aki Kalliatakis on 09/10/12 at 6:34 am
Sky-high petrol prices, rampant food inflation and the dreaded prospect of court- enforced Gauteng road tolling are calculated to unleash a monster in time for Christmas – the Angry Consumer. Regrettably, most South African companies are ill equipped to tame the beast and do good business despite the antagonism.
The analysis comes from Aki Kalliatakis, a customer service consultant frequently called in by businesses to inspire service improvements. Kalliatakis says the SANRAL road-tolling saga “could provide the how-to or how-not-to guide on the management of angry, hurt and exploited customers”.
Founder of The Leadership LaunchPad consultancy notes: “The consumer faces a perfect storm of rising fuel, food and utility bills while labour discontent mounts. On top of recent petrol price increases there is growing likelihood Gauteng motorists will have to fork out SANRAL toll fees they flatly reject. This puts SANRAL in the cross-hairs. It may be a monopoly, but angry consumers don’t respect market power. How will SANRAL react? Will they simply pray for consumer apathy or will they develop an effective damage-limitation strategy?”
“SANRAL is becoming a test case in more ways than one. Every customer-facing business will be watching the situation for indications of the consumer mood and signs of what might work as economic pressures mount.” International experience shows consumer rage can be softened, but it takes brave management and a comprehensive plan, says Kalliatakis.
He suggests …
- Never gloat … if the courts support SANRAL’s right to impose unpopular road tolls, don’t gloat and don’t imply customers can like it or lump it.
- Apologise … anger may be assuaged if senior SANRAL executives humbly described how sorry they are that it had to come to this.
- Empathise … all communication should acknowledge the hurt felt and show empathy for the road-user’s unhappiness.
- Don’t hide … make as many media appearances as possible, listen to critics, express sympathy and quietly put Sanral’s case.
- Acknowledge frustration … ignoring customers can provoke anti-social behaviour. Perhaps set up a hotline staffed by well-trained personnel who acknowledge the problems faced by cash-strapped families.
- Be helpful … launch initiatives to help motorists, perhaps by sending out emergency teams to crash sites to help restore traffic flow and pass on
- Be special … introduce discounts or ‘specials’ to show SANRAL is trying to help embattled consumers. Giveaways from tollbooths are another option.
- Future focus … highlight future benefits such as better traffic flow and improved safety on quality roads. Angry consumers won’t take your word for it. Gather statistics to prove the case.
- Improve training … ensure staff are properly prepared for the wave of anger and react with patience and understanding. Never snap back at angry customers. This inflames the situation.
Kalliatakis adds: “Many South African businesses are poorly prepared for the growing mood of consumer resentment. Dealing with the angry customer is tough. Sanral can show these businesses how to do it … or perhaps not.”
Aki Kalliatakis is the Managing Partner of The Leadership LaunchPad, a company dedicated to helping clients become more customer driven. He can be contacted at (011) 640 3958, or via the website at www.DelightYourCustomers.co.za. View more articles by Aki Kalliatakis.