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How many times do we need to say "I'm Sorry" to a customer?

Author Tech
#1 | Posted: 24 Mar 2007 03:13 
Just a question I've been pondering about a few days now

How many times do we need to say "sorry" to a customer if things go wrong?

I was in a situation the other day
The Senero
Trainee - didn't pass on requried infomation to enable us to complete the job on time
Problem - The Trainee and all other staff with any knowlegde of the job had the day off (weekend)
I was approached by a very angry customer (won't go into details I'm sure we have all been there before)
After several hrs the customer walked out very happy and satisfied
They understood - Firstly we had a "communcation breakdown" (no details were given) and secondly the job they requested is a specialised area usually taking days to resolve and they expected a 1 day turn around..
I apoligised once for the communication breakdown and the customer accepted, apprieated the issue and walked out satisfied...

The following monday a meeting was held as to resolve this problem from happening again.
My employer come down on the trainee like a tonne of bricks
as far as I'm concerned it was well deserved
I mean, I'm still pulling out boots from my own butt from over 12years in industry.... I just learnt NEVER have the same boot twice.

back to the point

I was absolutely dumb founded to see my employer make the trainee ring the customer and tell them it was his fault and say "sorry"

They way I look at it is - The customer IS satisfied, Understood their expectations were way too high, recieved an apology and understood I was unaware of the job and went completly out of my way including cancelling personal bookings (dinner with wife) to fix the problem..

That customer will return I HAD no douts when they left.

The next contact should have been a couple of weeks later from the trainee for a standard followup (and acted as nothing went wrong)
if they were distatisfied they would say so in the followup

I feel having the trainee admit to stuffing up, to the customer, a couple of days later can lead to a possible belief by the customer of an ongoing internal problem within the company

Why - Because I would!

More so, The trainee I don't believe is yet qualified to Talk to the customer as a hand over job, and more so wasn't onsite to see or hear how I handled the customer

I went out of my way NOT to explain how the job was handled internally, to ensure they understand this IS a once only issue

and Now I have douts if the customer will come back and/or believe if a follow up was to happen how true it would be!

I belive in 1 apology and as little as much info given as possible re. how the organisation works

I just would like to know how do others feel about this
as I feel this is a global question catering all areas of customer service.

anyhow have fun!

Author KarenSB
#2 | Posted: 24 Mar 2007 05:51 
There's a Marshall Goldsmith metric on this. If I am misquoting or mis-stating, I apologize and own this as my mistake. But I think I've got this pretty close to what he has found.

It takes 8 consecutive, positive actions to turn a negative into a neutral.

Then it takes an additional 8 consecutive, positive actions to turn a neutral into a positive.

Who gets 16 chances? And "consecutive, positive action" is subjective. If you call me 16 times to apologize, it's going to irritate me. But if your organization's next 16 interactions with me are not negative...well, then...that's "proof" that I haven't made an error in judgment by purchasing from you, yes? But that is me. The next person may not be irritated by 16 apologies.

I don't think it's a matter of whose approach was the "right" one. We all are human, and as such, we hope for progress because we cannot achieve perfection. Some days you eat the bear, some days the bear eats you.

Thanks for letting me share,

Author ayaree
#3 | Posted: 25 Mar 2007 19:39 
Tech, I don't have as full an understanding of the particulars on this implementation as you do, but my immediate reaction is that the boss who made the decision to make the trainee make the call to eat more crow than was needed was wrong and needs to read up on customer service more than you do.

The boss opened up the wound after you sewed it up. What was needed was not a sacrificial lamb call but a call to ask whether everything continues to go OK. You don't follow up to emphasize what is bad about your product; if you follow up at all, you verify that someone is satisfied with you and that call is a demonstration of how goo you are.

This boss figure you described honed in on one person and made that person re-hash the whole fiasco for the customer. Most customers don't get a thrill out of a person in the wrong being rebuked if they have not seen that same person act irresponsibly. This sounds like an embarrassing situation for everyone, and why would you embarrass the customer?

And if you have an internal problem, you certainly don't utilize the person who was the source of the problem as a public tool in any way, you make use of the mistake as a learning exercise, and hopefully the person is worth keeping (if they're not, then this experience is part of the reason why not).

I am suspecting you are not very pleased with the boss figure who put this trainee through that experience, Tech, even though you thought that newbie needed a lesson. That boss figure undermined the damage control you had already provided.

Author Michele Eby
#4 | Posted: 26 Mar 2007 07:26 
I love the comment " the boss opened up the wound after you sewed it up." Great visual. The customer did not need to relive the poor service experience again. And, I too would wonder from a customer perspective if I should indeed return. The phone call would probably make me appreciate the person who handled my problem, but make me question the company's motives, dysfunction, and customer approach.

I'd like to talk about the trainee for a moment though. It sounds like the trainee caused a huge customer issue. Thanks to you, the customer left happy. But instead of creating a learning moment -- how the customer problem could have been avoided, as well as using your solution as an illustration of customer recovery -- the boss embarassed the trainee and managed by fear.

If I was a customer I would question whether to return. If I was that trainee I would question whether to return.

Managers should validate and educate their new people. But, most of all they should treat them as people -- with respect.

Michele Eby
Writer and Training Advisor
Media Partners Corporation

Author patilint
#5 | Posted: 26 Mar 2007 11:31 
Without recreating the wheel- let me just say that I agree completely with Michelle.
Thats my 2 cents.

Author patilint
#6 | Posted: 26 Mar 2007 11:33 
My apologies for the spelling of her name- Michele....spelled it like my daughter in law.

Author noemi
#7 | Posted: 30 Mar 2007 00:43 
The fact that the customer left your establishment satisfied is enough. Asking the trainee to make that additional phone call is overacting. The incident with the trainee, first and foremost, it's command responsibility. Whoever is in charge of the "store" should have not left the trainee alone. If at all the trainee did something "awful", it's the person in charge who should be reprimanded not the trainee. The fact that he is a trainee means he's still learning the trade. Asking him further to call back the client also does little to boost his sagging confidence because of the incident. I doubt if the customer appreciates that as well, that's going over the hill.

Author Tech
#8 | Posted: 30 Mar 2007 03:57 
Thanks for your comments...keep'em comming!

I wasn't looking for a "who's right or wrong" just what others might think...
on the senero
Thanks! guys I have taken in a fare bit.
I really like the comment "Some days you eat the bear, some days the bear eats you."
I've since relised I almost live by this but didn't know it.
eg. I believe having 100% customer satisfaction is impossible and any company that tries - I'm not interested, But What I am interested in how a company handles each and every senero, Lets face it ,a chief might make the best steak in town but someone will complain.....

I'm glad to see I'm not alone re. the boss may have "opened the wound"
I actually got a bit concerned when I opened my mouth about my thoughts on the issue to a workmate to find they totally agreed with the trainee making the call.
so I then kept my mouth shut and came here

anyhow the good news is I now have a couple of other questions regarding the issue

first - How do we use seneros like this to provide a learning experience for a trainnee/newbie as such?

the trainee wasn't on site to see how I handled the customer.
Other than saying don't do it agian. is there another way
or do we just wait untill it happens again when he is onsite? (hopefully it won't)

as far as "the person in charge who should be reprimanded not the trainee."
thats a tricky one I understand what you are saying and agree (in fact I have since implemented a superviser position to resolve some "internal" issues)

at some point you have to realise you can only drive in a nail so far
you should only have to tell a trainee to write down a phone msg once
do you think the person in charge should be reprimanded for the trainee's forgetfulness as such
or do we use this to investigate why the trainee is forgetful?

also the trainee needs to experience the "big bad world" sometimes it's better to just shove them in as long they understand they have a support network backing them up.(now that sounds worst then I intended, but you know what I mean!)

do we record 8hrs of phone conversations with the office juinor everyday and analyise the results and sit them down to train them how to handle each and every call?
I don't but I expect them to understand that if they have any doudts with what is happening to come and ask or at lease if they feel they may have done/said the wrong thing to come and ask.
most poeple know if they should'nt have done or said that! I believe the first step in training is understanding "that little person in my head recons I didn't handle that as good as I should have" means go and talk to somebody

"Managers should validate and educate their new people. But, most of all they should treat them as people -- with respect."
I agree too, in fact this also opens another question
I'm going to open a new topic for this one
"What does respect really mean?"
I would like hear your thoughts on this one aswell!

anyhow - Have Fun!

Author ayaree
#9 | Posted: 1 Apr 2007 15:27 
Tech, when it comes to making the new trainee make the call post-solution (not sure what he said, but I guess it was generally, "I made an error, I take responsibility, I'm sorry" etc), I can see where there would be a variety of perspectives at your place. If your workmate thought it was a good idea, well, maybe that chap or gal thought it was good for the newbie to experience the gravity of the situation and that could be chalked up as valuable work experience and learning from mistakes, and that is all wonderful stuff. But it just came across to me and a couple of others that the boss who enforced the call by the newbie AFTER THE PROB WAS FIXED seemed like a public punishment of an individual--and individual who also happens to be at your company, with an integrity to own. Not sure which culture you are speaking from, but the integrity I work within involves recognizing that a person (maybe a newbie) is identifiable as the person who should have been able to do better, but you know what, we are going to shield that person from a ton of bricks falling on him, let's allow him to learn from this. That error-doing newbie will feel bad enough, he needs support to rise up from that bad experience.

So really there could be a counter-argument to what I and others said, as this could be seen as an opportunity for a new person to TAKE OWNERSHIP. But it all depends on the culture of the people we are talking about and the culture of the workplace. From my perspective, it is not good teamwork to allow all the bricks to fall on one person. That is what I think about employee relations.

When it comes to the relationship between solutions provider and customer, I still think that you don't go back and revisit a sitcheeation that has already been fixed. If you call someone a bad name one week and make amends, you don't say the next week, by the way I called you a bad name last week and I should not have done that. The suspicion on the receiving end will be that you still think of that person as the bad name. Your customer felt repaired by you one week when a prob was resolved. A boss figure had the newbie responsible for a prob call up and talk about the prob. The emphasis is on the prob (your company has a "newbie" and he needs to take responsibility for his wrongdoing) instead of "wow, we took care of you, that problem is in the past, and if you thought we fell short at one point, that is in the past, let's be ready for you in the future"

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 How many times do we need to say "I'm Sorry" to a customer?

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