Recovery is making good on a mistake. No matter how hard you try,
you, or the company you work for, can make an error. Think of a
mistake as an opportunity to regain the customer's loyalty. As you
read in Step 2, customers who have a problem that gets resolved are
actually more loyal than those who never had a problem at all.
The following are ways you can increase the probability that a
customer will be forgiving.
When you apologize, you are recognizing that a customer is
dissatisfied. You are not necessarily apologizing for something you
did, or even something that the company did. Maybe the customer had
to walk a long way from the parking lot and wants you to know how
long it took him to get there. You could say, "That was a long way
for you to walk," or "I'm sorry that you had to spend time walking
that you didn't anticipate." It's not your fault that the customer
had to walk so far. The apology is simply to acknowledge the
However, if an error was made, an apology is essential. Equally
important is determining who is responsible for what went wrong;
for example, not having an item ready when promised or a product
that doesn't function properly. In those cases, an apology is in
order. If the customer is upset about something that you're not
sure was the organization's fault or if the concern is about a
product dysfunction, you need to apologize for whatever the client
had to endure. An apology is an expected part of customer service;
it is not an extra. It is a common courtesy.
Fix the Problem
We have talked about problem-solving techniques, questions, and
ways to stay positive in situations where you have to make good on
a promise. The promise is the company or organization's guarantee
to deliver. Whatever promise was broken, or perceived to be broken,
you need to fix it.
Whatever the customer thinks is a problem is one. Is the customer
always right? No. However, the customer is always right in his
mind. It's not up to us to be the judge and jury. It's not up to us
to save the store: "Aha, I caught you. You broke that yourself."
It's not up to us to question someone's decision to return
something or to register a complaint. Fix the problem as quickly
and efficiently as possible. Exchange the merchandise. Give a
credit. Avoid arguing at all costs because, in extreme cases, it
will cost - possibly one person's business for life, and word of
mouth tales that might reach millions of people costing an untold
amount of lost revenue.
Offer Something of Value
Although you may not be able to make a "peace offering" yourself, a
token of goodwill is one way to soothe a person who is annoyed.
This is not a ploy. It is a way to make someone feel better.
Remember the goal is to make the customer feel good.
Customers have come to expect that something extra will be offered
to them if they have been loyal to the organization. If you read
posts on consumer websites, you will see comments from customers
who want retribution with a gift certificate, movie pass,
complimentary dinner, new computer, or refunds of expenses. Some
consumers even want retribution when the mistake was theirs.
The following story is an example of shoppers who were incensed
that a store did not offer compensation for their trouble. It also
demonstrates how an exception could have saved a family a lot of
discomfort. The drama and pain that companies can save customers
goes far beyond dollars and cents.
Christina and her mom, Elaine, were shopping for a bed, which would
be the first big purchase that Christina was buying with her own
money. The mother-daughter team saw a box spring and mattress they
both liked. Elaine asked the salesperson if she had a headboard
that would fit the box spring and mattress. The salesperson
enthusiastically showed them a headboard that Christina loved.
Elaine wanted to be sure that the headboard would connect to the
frame without any additional preparation or special equipment. She
had nobody to assemble the bed. The salesperson responded by
saying, "Sure! No problem! This headboard will attach easily."
The next day, Sunday, all the items were delivered at 7:30 a.m.
Although the drivers woke them up, Elaine and Christina were
excited to get the new furniture. However, as soon as the
deliverymen began assembling the bed, they discovered that they
couldn't attach the headboard to the frame because the assembly
would require special bolts and supports. Mom and daughter were
Christina called the salesperson who sold her the bed. The
salesperson said, "Oh, yeah, that's happened before. You can go to
the hardware store and purchase carriage bolts and have somebody
attach it." Clearly upset, Christina said, "I paid for delivery and
set up! I don't have anyone to help us with this, and if we do it
ourselves, we might ruin the headboard." The deliverymen heard the
conversation and were very understanding. They told Elaine and
Christina that it might be best to go back to the store, and that
it opened at 9:00. Mother and daughter arrived at the store at 9:00
only to find that it didn't open until 11:00. To kill time, they
went out to breakfast.
When the store opened, they spoke with their original salesperson.
She showed them headboards that "might work better." Even though
Christina could not understand why the salesperson didn't show her
"headboards that might work better" to begin with, she looked at
the alternatives. She didn't like any of them. She said that she
would just return the headboard she had and she didn't want
Then the salesperson recommended that Christina keep the headboard,
but get a footboard from another set from the same manufacturer.
Christina was frustrated, pointing out that the two sets didn't
match, not to mention the fact that they couldn't assemble the
headboard, which was why they were in the store in the first place.
However, she was now warming up to the idea of having a footboard.
Christina found a headboard and a footboard that she liked.
She asked if she could get the items for the price of a twin set
rather than a standard. She explained that this would be within her
budget, and expressed to the salesperson that she and her mom had
gone through a lot of unnecessary trouble. The salesperson refused
Christina's request because she couldn't key the correct numbers
into the computer. Elaine figured that someone could determine how
to make this exception and revise a standard price on the company's
computer. She asked to see a manager. In a very stern tone, the
salesperson said, "We do not negotiate here. The prices are what
they are." Elaine was not able to get any further. They left the
store. Christina was upset, but Elaine said, "If this is the worst
thing that happens to us in life, we're lucky. It's material
stuff." Christina was still upset.
On Monday, Christina's boyfriend, Eric, came over and saw that she
was still livid. He decided to take it upon himself to go to the
furniture store. He saw the same salesperson, explained the story,
and the salesperson said, "Oh, yes, I remember your girlfriend. I
just happen to have a package of plates that might help. You put
them between the bed and frame before it is bolted."
Eric took the plates and went to Home Depot, where he purchased
carriage bolts. When he got back to Christina's house, Christina
wasn't happy. She didn't want Eric to work on the headboard. She
wanted to return it and buy a matching headboard and footboard from
a different store. Christina went to work feeling very stressed.
Eric was mad because Christina wouldn't let him fix the headboard.
He wanted to help.
When the deliverymen came to pick up the headboard, Christina said,
"This is the headboard from hell." Hearing only a synopsis of the
story from Christina, they nodded and said, "This isn't the first
time this has happened."
A month later, Christina got a bill for an "exchange fee" for the
merchandise. She received no consideration from the store when she
explained that she did not exchange the headboard; she returned it
because it could not be assembled in the way she was promised. At
the time of this writing, mother and daughter are still contesting
the $60 fee.
How many "touch points" - or times the store could have pleased the
customer - were ignored in this scenario? The last resort in this
case is recovery since, from the beginning, the salesperson should
have known about installation procedures or been truthful; we don't
know which. At the very least, the salesperson would have recovered
by selling the merchandise for the price of a twin set rather than
a standard, and some of the continued annoyance, family conflict,
and distress might have been mitigated. People want to be
compensated for what they consider to be unfair inconvenience. They
want you to make good.
Another way to show understanding of the customer's inconvenience
is to offer coupons, advance sales notices, information the
customer might not have known about, or other bonuses.
A follow-up call is usually over and above what customers expect.
When your consideration goes beyond the moment, it is appreciated,
sometimes with surprise, but always with appreciation. In contrast
to Elaine and Christina's story, here's a recovery story sent to me
by a friend.
My daughter wanted a particular poster for her college dorm.
Walmart usually carries the poster but it was out of stock on the
day we went to get it. A salesperson in the department said she
would call the vendor and let us know when the poster was going to
be back in stock. A few weeks later, true to her word, the
salesperson called to say that the poster came in, and asked if we
wanted her to hold it for us. Today, even high-end stores don't go
to that length for a customer! The next day, I called the
salesperson's supervisor to relay the story. I was assured that the
salesperson would be verbally recognized at a team meeting, and
that a letter of commendation would be put in her file.
Mistakes do happen. When they do, it is critical in customer
service to apologize, fix the problem, and offer something of value
to recover gracefully and retain customer loyalty. Understanding
customer differences is also an important key to providing
This article is an excerpt from 10 Steps to Successful Customer
Service, a 2010 ASTD Press publication. To order the book, go
Maxine Kamin is a veteran trainer, educator,
consultant, and administrator. After 14 years in academia, holding
positions such as faculty member at the University of Massachusetts
and acting dean of Instruction at Miami-Dade College, she followed
her academic career with 20 years in business, education, and
social service, including operating her own successful consulting
firm full-time for 10 years, working as the manager of instruction
and evaluation for American Express, and serving in her current
position as director of Professional Development at ChildNet.