Recovery means 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 your customer's loyalty.
In fact, 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 your 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 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 an acknowledgement of 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. 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
Fix the problem
Is the customer always right? No. However, the customer is always
right in her 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 because, in extreme cases, it will be
costly - possibly the loss of one person's business for life, and
word of mouth tales that might reach millions of people and cost
the company lost revenue.
Offer something of value
Although you may not be able to make a "peace offering" yourself, a
token of good will 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 an 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.
Give coupons and advance sales notices
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.
The role of the leader
If you are a manager or a leader in your organization, you can help
your staff members by offering assistance in situations where
customers expect more than they are getting, or more than what your
staff can authorize. If you are able to approve an exception, the
customer will appreciate the gesture. Not only will it foster
goodwill, you will increase the chances for repeat business with
Work with your staff members for resolution of customers' concerns.
At times, managers make decisions without explaining their reasons
to their staff. Sometimes these decisions please the customer and
displease the employee. You can avoid such circumstances by
discussing your role with your team in staff meetings, and by
deciding together how to best handle common situations.
Of course, there will be times when you have to deal with
unpredictable situations. Judgment calls are a part of your
responsibility as a leader. Although taking responsibility is
essential, motivating your staff is equally as important, and
solving problems together can be motivating. Making decisions
without explanations or follow-up with the staff member involved in
the initial conflict can cause resentment. Be proactive and work
with your staff. Explain that you are not overruling your
team members when you approve an exception; you are making a
decision to waive the rules based on the factors that you see. Let
them know you appreciate them when they try to stay within your
rules and bring possible exceptions to your attention. Discuss the
best way to communicate in difficult situations, and what you can
empower them to do themselves. These types of discussions build
trust among the whole team.
Put it all together
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
Note: This article is excerpted from 10
Steps to Successful Customer Service by Maxine Kamin.
Maxine Kamin is the founder and president of TOUCH Consulting and 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 spent 20 years in business, education, and social service. She is the curriculum designer for Positive Start, a supervisory training program that is now a three-credit college course, and part of the team that developed Supervising for Excellence, an intensive program for new supervisors in the field of child welfare.
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