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Have you heard the one about the dodgy car dealer?

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So now the deceitful fog of car emissions has settled, I sat down to write a blog about what the world of customer service can take from it. It’s time to learn some lessons TMP folk and really, this could be the shortest blog in internet history:

Don’t cheat. Don’t lie. Don’t cover up.

End of. And to be honest, the third blindingly obvious tip was a stretch, but three points always read better than two. However, I like to give my readers more value than that – although please, if cheating and lying as bad business practice was news to you, go and sit on the naughty step until the lesson’s sunk in. So, VW. In the most bizarre response to regulatory changes in history, VW decided to install ‘defeat devices’ in 5 million of its cars. But it’s OK – they initially thought the number would be over twice that, which makes everything alright. Not!!!

But why write about this now?

Because this week saw the first sensible move from a VW exec in a long time. On Monday, British boss Paul Willis was scrutinised by MPs over the scandal. His straight-talking and honesty was a wonder to behold. What did he say? Warning that it will take time to track down the 1.2 million ‘customised’ cars in the UK, he said; “It’s better to be thorough and get it absolutely right, rather than do it in haste.” Hallelujah! Finally, someone showing VW customers a little respect. And that’s the thing about building customer loyalty – you can’t always tell them what they want, but tell your customers the truth and say it with kindness and you’ll be OK.

I know I’m sounding a little bit like your gran, but whether your company is facing a global shockwave or a slightly annoying ripple on Twitter, take the same approach – treat your customers with respect, take their concerns seriously and be pro-active in meeting their needs.

But there is another way…

Sometimes humour can work – but be very (very) careful with this one. Last month Aldi chose to deal with one customer complaint using humour and it paid off. When Darryl Reilly complained about the ‘nightmare’ of finding a plain biscuit in a pack of chocolate digestives, Aldi responded with this message:

How did they get away with it? Because Darryl’s complaint had been funny and they still gave him something for his troubles. Darryl was appeased and the post got 42,000 likes on Facebook. Not a bad morning for the PR team, although the three hours it took for them to respond suggest that the powers-that-be thought very carefully about their reply. And that’s never a bad thing.

Humour, especially in our social media-driven world, can work brilliantly – but when to use it? Give yourself the freedom to be funny when diffusing difficult situations, especially to stop a tiny ripple getting out of hand on Twitter or Facebook. Take your lead from the initial post. If they’re being funny then you can be too – just make sure you’re staying humorous and not becoming insulting. It’s also OK to have the occasional joke at your own expense. Allow your social media managers to play the joker card every now and again and you can sit back and watch your likes and retweets go up and up. It might feel risky but there’s more to be gained than lost – unless you’re selling something serious, obviously. Probably not the best blog for funeral directors. If you do decide to inject a little lightness into your brand, the key is to remember – just like VW’s Paul Willis – that your customers always deserve respect. I’ll say it again – humour, not insults.

Oh, and by the way, if you do have something you really need to cover up, the trick is to give away just enough to throw people off the real scent – or pungent nasty stink as the case may be. Get me drunk and I might tell you the story of a government minister who kept three diaries for that very reason…but in the meantime, get in touch with The Monachie Project and access the one customer service consultancy that will tell you what’s really going on for your consumers – and how to put things right!!!

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