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Satisfaction makes business sense

Sally J. Taylor

Complaints are a part of doing business.

On the South Shore, where tourists drive the economy, how a complaint is handled can mean the difference between a satisfied customer who returns and a customer whose dissatisfaction sends potential customers elsewhere.

“A complaint (multiplied by) time equals a customer that will never come back. Plus they’ll tell everyone,”said Duane Wallace, the executive director of the South Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce, which receives many complaints against local businesses. “We’re very concerned about that image.

“A complaint against one business affects us all.”

In some complaint cases, the chamber staff serves as mediators or just a listening ear.

“We listen for as long as it takes for their story to be heard,” Wallace said.

While Wallace is careful not to assume the business is wrong, the primary goal is to encourage a satisfactory solution.

“We don’t shield the business,” he said.

Dissatisfied customers are also referred to the Division of Consumer Affairs and the Attorney Generals Office for additional help.

When a letter is received by the chamber, Wallace first writes to the business owner explaining that a complaint has been received and encouraging a response within 30 days.

Complaints against lodging properties are passed on to the South Lake Tahoe Lodging Association.

Though the worst complaints are against businesses that are not members of either the chamber or lodging association, Wallace and association secretary/treasurer Jan McCarthy work hard to bridge the satisfaction gap.

“Lodging felt they should take care of their own,” she said. “I send a generic letter to the motel saying we all get complaints and it’s how we handle them that’s important.”

Sometimes she gets nasty letters back.

“It’s sad to say, some are angry that people complained. They don’t want to do anything for them,” McCarthy said.

“But we want (the customer) to feel good about Lake Tahoe.”

If the owner feels strongly about their position, McCarthy arranges with another motel to provide the customer with a complimentary night.

“I feel, at least, Tahoe responded. Sixty percent (of the customers) take me up on it.”

Other business owners go out of their way to satisfy a customer complaint.

In a recent case, the lodging owner handled a complaint so well, the customer couldn’t find enough positive things to say, Wallace said.

Besides building customer satisfaction, they view their efforts as an education process for business owners who may not understand the principles of customer satisfaction.

Eventually, some catch on.

Others don’t.

“Some files are pretty thick,” Wallace said. And some of the customer stories are “pretty horrible.”

Everyone gets complaints, McCarthy repeated. “Sometimes getting a complaint helps educate us, they point our our weak spots.

“But if you get too many, you’ve got a problem.”


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