How to capture the advantage behind your next service breakdown.
We all try to do things right. No business sets out to do wrong when servicing customers. But life is full of unexpected moments and inevitably, mistakes do happen.
While many people in businesses focus on doing things right the first time, very few seem to take a powerful interest in setting things right when things do go wrong.
In those moments, a passion for “zero defects” often gives way to “Let’s get this mess cleaned up fast, and get back to business as usual.”
Because of this attitude, businesses miss an important opportunity to build customer loyalty and valuable goodwill.
It is exactly when things go wrong that customers are most sensitive about how they are treated, most likely to share their experiences with friends and colleagues, and most likely to make lasting decisions about whether to bring their future business back to a company, or to its rivals.
We know that mistakes will happen. What we do not know is how we will be treated when we go back to get the mistake corrected. “Will they treat me as if it is my fault?” “Will they argue with me?” “Will they make it difficult for me to prove my purchase, fill out papers, or otherwise file my complaint?”
In these unpleasant moments, customers’ sensitivities are heightened. If they were casual shoppers before, they become discerning now. If they were discerning shoppers before, they become hyper-sensitive when things go wrong.
Make that sensitivity work in your favor. If service errors are quickly and professionally handled, customer loyalty can actually “bounce back” to higher heights.
Look at this example: You buy a pair of expensive shoes at a small boutique and pay cash. Go home and, eventually, you throw away the receipt. Two weeks later as you’re walking down the street, the heel pops off and falls beyond reach into the drain below.
So you decide to return the expensive shoes back at the boutique. But of course you’re a bit nervous since you’ve thrown away your cash receipt.
Now imagine the sales clerk welcoming you with a smile, and right away setting you at ease about not keeping your receipt. She promptly gives you a new pair of shoes and then adds in a free pair of matching socks “to thank you for coming back, and to apologize for the inconvenience”.
Would you return to that boutique again in the future? Would you recommend that boutique to your friends? Of course you would. Your loyalty has actually gone up because you had a service problem and it was well handled.
This is the key point: when things go wrong, you have a tremendous opportunity to build more customer loyalty just by quickly and generously setting things right.
Use these seven simple steps to gain customer loyalty by “Bouncing Back” with S-E-R-V-I-C-E recovery.
S-ay You’re Sorry
There’s nothing like a sincere apology, delivered right away, to let people know you really care. There’s no need to grovel, nor apologize forever. One honest and heartfelt apology will suffice.
The faster you can fix the problem, the better. This is not the time to calculate the cost of repairing the damage. Do what it takes to set things right. Costs will be forgotten or absorbed over time, but benefits last forever.
R-espond to the Customer
Remember, people are involved, not just products, dates and orders. Take the time to empathize. Be a listening ear. Keep personal contact; use the phone, send a fax, stay in touch. And when it’s all over, thank them personally with a note, small gift or other special gesture.
V-ictory to the Customer
Build higher levels of customer loyalty by giving more than what they expect. Refunds, discounts, special assistance, extra services; it doesn’t have to be money! But whatever it is, do it fast. No loyalty is gained from a refund or gesture that takes months to negotiate, authorize or discuss.
Change your processes and improve training to avoid the problem next time. Institutionalize improvements.
Spread the word so that everyone can learn from what happened. Provide full information about consequences and improvements.
E-xtend the Outcome
Don’t stop working when they stop complaining. Stay in touch until you are sure the customer comes back and their long-term loyalty is assured.
What else can you do to keep your customers coming back for more? Make it easy for your customers to complain! Create new ways for customers to let you know what’s wrong.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Set up a telephone hotline for immediate response to customer comments and complaints.
- Give counter staff the power to take prompt and significant actions for your customers.
- Conduct focus groups with a cross-section of customers to find out what they want you to improve.
- Run surveys to keep track of your customers’ changing expectations. Find out what customers are buying now, and what they want in the future.
- Provide easy-to-use “comment cards” at all points of customer contact. Insert them in outgoing mail. Show your appreciation for responses, and reply fast.
- Become a customer of your best competitors. Eagerly seek out what they do better or differently than you. Then make appropriate improvements in your business operation.
Long-term, loyal customers lead to lower costs, repeat orders, frequent referrals and expanding profit margins. Losing one of these precious patrons is much more costly than the revenue from a single sale!
Service recovery does cost money (although a sincere apology costs nothing and goes a long way towards appeasing upset customers). But perhaps service recovery shouldn’t be seen as a cost at all?!
“Bouncing Back!” through generous service recovery is a proven strategy for building repeat business and long-term sustainable profits. It’s not a cost… it’s an intelligent business investment.
About the Author
Ron Kaufman is an internationally acclaimed educator for quality service. He is author of the bestselling series “UP Your Service!” and founder of “UP Your Service College”.