How to Handle Your Mistakes with Customers
No matter how hard we try to avoid making them, mistakes eventually find a path to our doorstep. Often times they sneak in through the back door and try to steal our reputation that we have worked so hard to build with our customers. We can be certain that mistakes will happen. We are all human. How we handle our mistakes makes all of the difference in the world in what our customers think of us and whether they will want to do business with us again.
We can all point to bad experiences we’ve had with customer service: slow fast-food, curt hotel staff, late shipments, or bad product. I’m sure we have all tried to regain some sense of justice from the situation by gossiping about it to family, friends, and co-workers. Isn’t it interesting that complaining to others about a bad experience flows so much more easily and emotionally compared to sharing a good transaction? In his blog Bad Service Makes a Good Story, Peter Gurney reiterates the widely accepted statistic that customers will tell ten times more people about a negative experience than a positive one. He goes on to say that the stories of bad service are also shared in more detail and with more drama than stories of good service. Ouch! As providers of products and services, how should we handle our missed expectations and mistakes when we make them?
A simple, real-life experience I had years ago provided a model for our firm’s approach to customer service. I was on the receiving end of a mistake at a restaurant I went to with my wife. I ordered a steak medium-well and it came back very undercooked. I mentioned this to the waitress and she agreed, apologized, and promptly took it back to make it right. A short moment later she came back accompanied by the restaurant manager with my steak cooked just right. Once the manager confirmed I was satisfied, he also apologized and offered us a discount on our bill for the inconvenience. He thanked us for coming that night and expressed his hope that we would come back again. After our meal on the way out to our car, my wife and I both commented on how well we were treated and that we would surely come back again.
Because our firm depends on good customer service, I was convicted to tell my story to our team at DISHER. At our next staff meeting, I shared my positive experience and the impact it had on me as a customer. What came out of that meeting was a new approach for how we now handle our mistakes. We call it our ‘Make It Right’ policy and it consists of three simple actions modeled after the restaurant’s response to my undercooked steak:
1. Apologize in person for your mistake.
2. Fix the issue at no extra cost to the customer.
3. Offer up a reason to come back.
The basis behind each of these steps is simple and compelling.
The first step of apologizing in person is the responsible thing to do. It is also most critical for setting the stage for how your customer will respond to you. In Robert Fulghum’s book, Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, you’ll find this pertinent advice, “Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody”. Apologizing in person is not easy and unfortunately it is rare in the business world; however, it can be tremendously powerful if done right. It must be truly sincere and there must not be any excuses or shifting of blame tied to it. The restaurant manager could have slid blame to a ‘new cook in the kitchen’ or passed it off as a ‘busy night’ but he didn’t. Had he offered excuses, it would have cheapened his apology. Also, a sincere apology disarms everyone in the meeting and gets the conversation focused on fixing the issue and moving your project forward.
Regarding step 2, when it comes to fixing the mistake or issue— no customer will want to pay for the extra effort or time involved. Don’t even think about it. Pay to make it right and as quickly as possible.
The final step of offering up a reason to come back is important to demonstrate to your customer that you value their business and want it in the future. Depending on the size of your mistake, you probably caused some inconvenience or grief with your customer. Providing an appropriate discount on the current project or a future one is a good way to help bring them back again. The final step should also include an explanation on how your organization has made the necessary changes to prevent the mistake from happening again. Repeat customers are the crown jewel of doing business. Giving your customer a great experience on your current project is a great sales opportunity. By offering up a reason for them to work with your team again, you will solidify in their mind your integrity and commitment to serving them well.
Of course, getting it right the first time is your ultimate goal. However, when you make a mistake, follow the three steps to Make it Right and create the most positive experience possible with your customer.
Written By: Jeff Disher, Founder & President | Jeff is a 26 year veteran of new product development. He has held roles in program management, product design, manufacturing, quality and training & development. He has a BS from Hope College and an MS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Michigan. He also is a certified Professional Engineer in the State of Michigan. Jeff and his family enjoy many outdoor activities.