Nobody’s perfect. For the small or fledgling company who hasn’t earned the kind of track record that a Fortune 500 corporation carries, however, even one small mistake may be impossible to get over. Fortunately, customers – even those who have been seriously wronged – love to forgive (especially if it’s a brand that’s been a big part of their lives and who has become part of their personal identity). They just need to know that they are truly valued and that they have a partner getting the outcome they deserve.
When is the last time you did something a customer may consider “unforgivable?” Do you know what the proper steps are for winning back a wronged customer? Are you prepared to deal with the type of fall-out that an insincere or ill-timed apology can cause? Learn the six steps for salvaging a customer relationship, and you’ll have less to clean up the next time things go off the rails.
All of the best advice for keeping a marriage or friendship alive also works in business. Being open to feedback, hearing what your customer has to say, and allowing them to express why they are frustrated is difficult – but necessary. You might already know every detail of the mistake your company made, but part of the reconciliation process is letting the harmed party vent. Give them a chance to tell you what they were dissatisfied with and how it has made them feel.
2. Own Up
Now, it’s time to repeat back what they have stated in a way that acknowledges you heard them. Something as simple as “This is not the type of customer experience we strive for at ABC company. Let me make this right” is a good start. Don’t minimize the customer’s experience, and never pass fault back onto the customer (even if they had some part in a failed product or service.) “You deserve better” is a magical, powerful phrase to remember.
3. Offer Solutions
Next, it’s important to take control of the situation by giving the customer reasonable choices for resolution. Don’t ever offer up an open-ended solution such as “what can we do to make it up to you?” We don’t like to admit that a very few customers may take advantage of the situation, but (even more importantly) offering up two possible solution choices shows them that you again own up to the problem. Choice A could be a refund. Choice B may be an offer to repair or replace a product. However you decide to solve the problem is up to you and company policy, but be sure to proactively suggest the possible outcomes in a way that expresses a true understanding of the situation.
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4. Stop Apologizing
If you choose to say sorry, do it once and early on in the reconciliation process. Continuing to apologize can seem empty, and it does nothing to actually fix the issues. While most customers appreciate an initial, heartfelt “sorry,” say it – then move on. Actions speak louder than words, and it’s what most customers want, anyway.
5. Don’t Make Promises You Can’t Keep
Hopefully, your two choices offered are both things you can deliver on, as most customers aren’t likely to forgive a second time. Make sure front-line staff know their options for fixing mistakes and how to escalate matters to managers or supervisors if they can’t. Train all customer contacts that they are never to promise or hint at resolutions that they aren’t equipped or authorized to grant. Make management available to field complicated situations the moment they happen.
6. Aim for 100% Resolution
What if you find that you have messed up, but the customer hasn’t noticed? It’s wise to reach out and make things right, anyway. There is no time limit on doing what’s best for your customers, either. Product recalls, for example, may sometimes be done out of fear or litigation or harm to customers, but they are also done as a way to show customers that they should expect higher standards. Because small companies are somewhat nimble, they are poised to do this even more often. They should regularly review their processes to make sure they aren’t leaving behind a segment of customers who are likely disenchanted but haven’t yet spoken up. Start-ups are especially agile and can work to ensure that each customer experience is a positive one.
While a 2017 American Express survey revealed that customers are happier with companies than ever before, it’s vital that your business gets it right. In fact, over 50% of U.S. customers have changed their mind about buying something because they didn’t feel they received good service, and 33% would think about buying from another business after just one bad transaction. This shows that, while your efforts to make amends can usually keep a customer who takes the time to complain, many customers choose to never deal with a bad company again (without ever giving you a chance to make things right.)
Perhaps the best way to keep a customer a customer forever – even in difficult times – is to make it easier to get feedback from everyone. Disgruntled customers should have no barriers in speaking up when they are disappointed with a service, product, or the shopping experience. Your front-line workers should look for signs that things aren’t going well, learn to be an active listener, and include prompts in the shopping experience for customers to express concerns – before things take a turn for the worse.
Thanks to social media, there’s no longer as huge a divide between how many friends a customer will tell about a bad experience versus a good. “Americans tell an average of 15 people about a poor service experience, versus the 11 people they’ll tell about a good experience”) – down from 16 vs. 9. If you want to see your business experience natural, exponential growth, however, you’ll take notice when customers share those negative encounters and do something about it right away.
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