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The Pricewatch guide to keeping customers happy

Some top tips to help businesses stay off our pages

Over the past 14 years or so Pricewatch has looked into thousands of complaints on behalf of readers. The details change and the companies who let people down vary (although there are some repeat offenders, particularly in the aviation, telecoms and financial sectors – and yes, we are talking about you, Eir, Aer Lingus and pretty much all the banks) but the basic anatomy of the complaints we get is wearyingly familiar.

They go like this: Mary (not her real name) has a problem – sometimes deadly serious, sometimes not so serious – with a service provider or retailer. Mary contacts the company. The company keeps Mary on hold for hours or just ignores her or gives her the run-around in some other infuriating fashion. Mary sticks with it but Mary is let down over and over again. Poor Mary is tearing her hair out.

Eventually, exasperated beyond reason, Mary contacts Pricewatch. Pricewatch contacts the company. Within hours the problem is resolved and the company apologises to Mary and her problem goes away.

We are not just blowing our own trumpet here. We do not a problem-solving superpower – the only reason we were able to fix Mary’s problem in less than an hour when she spent weeks or month failing to get it fixed is because the company who let her down or ignored her really hates bad press and is afraid to ignore us. Quite often they employ people to help them avoid bad press, so when we get in touch they act fast and make a bad situation slightly less bad.


It should not be this way. There should be no need for this page (although we’re glad there is), and companies should always recognise the importance of good service and do whatever it takes to make their customers happy. We are not saying that things won’t go wrong. Things will go wrong quite often – that is the nature of business and life.

The real measure of companies is not how perfect they are but how they handle customers’ problems.

With that in mind – and with a view towards reducing the number of queries we get from disgruntled consumers – we thought we would offer companies a handy cut-out-and-keep guide to help them stay off our pages.

1 Reward and empower your frontline staff

The people working on your shop floor or in your call centre are a powerful advert for your brand. If they are clueless or disinterested or powerless to show any initiative that will help a customer in difficulty, then your brand is failing. It is very important that you pay staff who are dealing with customers properly and treat them with respect. Maybe spend a little less on bringing in new business and a bit more on keeping the loyal customers you already have happy.

2 Don’t rip people off

This sounds obvious but so many companies who do business in Ireland don't seem to understand it. Consumers are not stupid, and they will know if you are charging over the odds for a product. They will look at a dual-pricing sticker and wonder why those who pay in sterling pay so much less than those who pay in euro. They can also carry out price comparisons at the click of a mouse and can see when they are being ripped off.

3 Answer your phone

Far too many companies seem to think we have all the time in the world and don’t mind hanging on the telephone for hours on end, listening to irritating hold music and dealing with increasingly complicated automated answering services. News flash: we don’t have all the time in the world and your automated systems might save you money but they come at a cost to our sanity. You might think that putting automated obstacles in the way of customers who wish to contact you with a query or a complaint is a sound business decision, but it’s not. It is really stupid and we will judge you harshly for it.

4 Don’t make promises you can’t or won’t keep

If you say you are going to call to a customer’s house to fix their broadband on a Tuesday, then call to their house to fix the broadband on a Tuesday or at least give them sufficient notice that you are not going to make it. If you don’t they will never forgive you. And if you have a delivery for a customer, get it to them on time. Or if you can’t get it to them on time, apologise promptly, offer them something by way of recompense and get it to them the next day.

5 Don’t ignore correspondence

If you have an email address, make sure someone is employed to look after it. There is absolutely no excuse for not responding to emails. And if you have a social media presence, make sure it is looked after. There is no point in setting up a Twitter or Facebook account and using it to flog your product. Social media is there to help you connect in a real way with customers – it is not just another advertising channel.

6 Treat all complaints seriously

There is little that gets a consumer’s back up more that the thought that you are dismissing or ignoring their concerns. If someone feels let down by your business, it is your job to make them feel better, even if you think they are overreacting. The best way to do this is by being sincere in your attempts to do the right thing. Do not fake that sincerity.

7 Set targets

Set yourself – and your employees – targets for successfully dealing with complaints and queries, and ask questions of yourself if you fail to meet those targets. Reward those who exceed the targets.

8 Keep channels of communication open

If someone contacts you with a problem and it is taking longer than you thought to resolve it, let them know that. Customers do not expect you to fix everything in a heartbeat but if you say you will call someone back today, then call them back today – even if all you have to say to them is you have no update for them. Frustration grows in an information vacuum, and if a customer thinks you have forgotten them, they will start to get angry.

9 Learn how to manage irrationally angry customers

Confrontation and accusations are not your friends, so even when things are getting heated, it is your job to be calm and conciliatory. Empathy goes a long way in a tricky situation. Calling some stupid or saying they are completely wrong will not – in the long run – make things better.

10 Be flexible and gracious

Give ground even if you don’t have to. We know that the customer is not always right, despite how the cliche goes. In our experience the customer is sometimes completely wrong. But unless they are totally taking the piss, it is better to allow someone to exchange a product or get a refund or a discount rather than have them walking away believing you have let them down.

11 Use common sense

A bit of common sense on the shop floor or in the call centre can go a long way. And remember that if you are sound, people will thank you for it and tell all their friends. If you’re not sound they might tell Pricewatch.