Imagine this: You’re a service provider, and you’ve made a mistake or encountered some unforeseen problem that has caused you to provide less than adequate service to a customer. Under normal circumstances, this could mean that you’ve lost that customer to a competitor forever. However, recovery is possible, and successfully recovering from a failure can highlight your customer service skills and leave you in a better position than if you hadn’t encountered the failure in the first place. Here are four crucial steps to follow for a successful recovery:
1. Apologize, and ask for forgiveness.
As a service provider, even if you know you aren’t wrong, you’re still wrong. The last thing the customer wants to hear in this situation is that the mistake was their own. They want an apology, and the most important part of any apology is sincerity. As children, most of us experienced a forced apology at one point or another. You hurt another child, and an adult becomes involved and orders you to apologize. “Say you’re sorry,” they say, and although you obey, your apology comes across as exactly what it is: coerced and insincere. The feeling of disappointment in an inadequate apology carries over into adulthood and into the service world as well. The customer will know that your apology is rushed and hollow, and they will respond the same as if you you had not apologized at all. Instead, offer them a specific, genuine apology and wait for them to accept it. Only after they have clearly signaled their forgiveness can you move forward to the next step.
2. Explore the complaint with the customer.
Too often, service providers rush to solve the problem before they have completely understood it. Not only do you risk upsetting your customer by doing so, but you also risk wasting resources on something that wasn’t the true issue. Step 2 is important because it allows you to go over the issue with your customer as an ally. Only now, after you have gained the customer’s forgiveness, may you begin to analyze what actually happened. Step 1 got the customer on your side, and now you can use them as a valuable resource to determine exactly what went wrong. As you begin to dissect the complaint, focus on asking questions rather than trying to place blame.
3. Solve the problem!
You’ve discovered, with the help of the customer, that the mistake was yours, so now you must do something to fix it. Beyond replacing the defective product or re-rendering the unsatisfactory service, you must also provide the customer with something extra. Your mistake has cost them time and effort, and if you want to retain their loyalty, you must more than make up for their inconvenience. Your extra step must leave the customer with the impression that your mistake, rather than making their day more difficult, has actually helped to make today their “lucky day.” Sometimes this compensation is tangible, sometimes customers are satisfied with just the opportunity to help improve your company, and sometimes you will have to be creative. But whatever you decide, make sure it leaves the customer with a positive impression.
4. Follow up, and document.
It’s important to follow up with the customer even once you have resolved the issue. This serves two main purposes: First, it highlights your sincere concern. By following up promptly you are underscoring the fact that you truly care about the problem. Second, it brings to light any unresolved concerns or persisting dissatisfaction, which gives you an opportunity to fix these lingering problems and leave the customer with a completely agreeable impression. Once you have followed up, it is important to document the problem for your own internal reference. This allows other employees to learn from this mistake and avoid making it again in the future.
So if your company has made a mistake or encountered an unpreventable problem that resulted in a dissatisfied customer, don’t panic! Taking these steps towards recovery not only fixes the immediate problem but also gives your company an opportunity to show off its customer service skills. Handling the problem professionally and efficiently underscores for the customer that mistakes are not commonplace and will not be the norm in your dealings with them. Oftentimes, a successfully resolved problem leaves the customer with a more favorable impression of your company than if the issue had never arisen to begin with.