You Made a Mistake…Now I am a Fan!
By Laurie Brown
chose to celebrate her 94th birthday with her family and
friends at a local restaurant. Although she had always enjoyed the
restaurant, she specifically chose it because she was a member of its
frequent diner program and was entitled to free desserts for all her
guests on her birthday.
graciously offered each guest whatever dessert they wanted “on the
house.” The waitress overheard
and asked for the card that was sent to her announcing this offer.
hadn’t brought the card with her. The waitress apologized, but
refused to offer the desserts saying, “There’s nothing that I can
do. It’s policy.”
was embarrassed, not only for forgetting the card, but also for
putting her guests in an uncomfortable position.
One of the
guests asked for a manager hoping that someone would do the right
thing. No such luck. The manager repeated the same mantra, “Sorry,
there’s nothing I can do. It’s policy.” The manager
“allowed” the guest to call the corporate headquarters. Two phone
calls later; a corporate manager said, “No problem!”
there was a problem. A big problem!
was humiliated and angry. No one left the restaurant feeling fondly
about what had been a great meal celebrating a momentous occasion. It
will be a long time before
or any of her guests return to this restaurant, if ever.
been accomplished? In an effort to “save money” by not allowing
people to take advantage of the dessert offer, the restaurant had lost
five good and loyal customers. Doesn’t seem to be a smart business
move, does it? But it
wasn’t just five customers that were lost. This lunch was such a bad
and her guests that they’ve been telling this story over and over
love to tell stories. They especially love to tell horror stories.
Interestingly enough, customers won’t tell stories about
satisfactory experiences. Too boring… what would be the point?
But they will tell stories about exceptionally bad or
exceptionally good service. Consider these three examples:
1) You order a new door for your home. The company
comes on time and replaces your door. Are you going to share that
story with anyone? Doubtful. You are a satisfied customer. End of
2) You order a new door for your home. They come to
install it and find that the frame was measured incorrectly. This
is the third wrong door delivered. Are you going to share this
story? You betcha! Every friend and family member will know the
name of the company and they will tell their friends and family to
3) You order a new door for you home. They come to
install it and find that the frame was measured incorrectly. The
installer apologizes sincerely, telling you that he understands
what a waste of time this has been for you. He promises that he
will personally make sure you have the right door in a week. Then
he asks, “Would that satisfy you?”
When you say “yes”, he sets the day and time.
installer comes the next week as promised and installs your door. You
are now a satisfied customer. But he wants you to be more than a
satisfied customer – he wants you to be thrilled – so he takes 20%
off your bill to compensate you for your trouble. The following week
the owner gives you a call to see if everything is okay.
going to share this story? Without a doubt! In so doing, you will
become the company’s cheapest and most effective form of
can you turn your disgruntled customer into your biggest fan?
enter into every transaction with a set of basic expectations. When
you create a problem for your customers by failing to meet these
expectations you’re faced with meeting a new set of even more
simple steps that will work to not only meet these expectations, but
exceed them. Imagine the following scenario: Mr. Jones has arrived at
your dealership to pick up his car at the promised time; however, his
vehicle is still being worked on. Mr. Jones is becoming irate. What
should you do?
Step One: Empathetic apology. It isn’t sufficient to mumble the
word “sorry” and expect it to have a positive effect. Your apology
needs to show your customer that you understand how your mistake has
negatively impacted his or her life.
Step Two: Take ownership. You want the customer to understand that
you are the person who will fix their problem. Ask the customer what
you can do to “make it right”. Often people are afraid to ask
their customer this question. They don’t want to become obligated to
meet an unrealistic demand. You needn’t be afraid of their answer,
because simply asking does not obligate you. Most customers are
reasonable—at worst, you have the beginning of a negotiation.
Step Three: Fix the problem immediately. In the case of Mr. Jones,
you would want to get his car to him ASAP. Sometimes you can’t fix
the problem immediately, in which case you need to show him that
you’re making a sincere effort to resolve the problem.
Step Four: Get your customer’s buy in. Asking for the customer’s
agreement will ensure that he will at least leave satisfied.
something like, “I am so sorry Mr. Jones—not having your vehicle
ready at the promised time must have really inconvenienced you. I will
personally make sure that your vehicle is ready in the next 20
minutes. Will that be satisfactory?”
problems, these four steps should satisfy your customer. But
remember—a “satisfied” customer doesn’t talk about his
experience. Now, take the opportunity to add value, so that your
customers will talk about how great you are. To do this, you need to
take two additional steps.
Step Five: Symbolic atonement. You need to go the extra mile to show
that you are truly sorry. A small token can go a long way to ease the
pain your mistake caused. In the case of Mr. Jones, an offer of a free
oil change might be appropriate. This gift shows that you understand
that an apology alone cannot fix the problem. Reflect on what you know
about this customer and choose something that has meaning and value to
Step Six: Follow up. This is where you can really shine! After a
short period of time, call, e-mail or write your customer and make
sure they are satisfied with your efforts. This is also an opportunity
to ask for more business and referrals.
these steps take an inordinate amount of time or money, but they can
really create delighted customers—customers who will tell stories
that promote you to their friends and family.
let’s go back to Pearl’s birthday lunch. Why wasn’t the
permission to provide the free desserts enough to turn it into a
“good story?” The weight of the damage that was done was so much
more than the effort it would have taken to make it right at the
should this restaurant have done? An empathetic apology would have
been a start. “Mrs. Grey, we are so sorry that we ruined your
birthday. We hope these desserts will make it a little better.”
(Steps 1-3 in action) But they needed to go the extra mile. She should
have been sent a letter apologizing again and offering a free meal to
compensate her for her discomfort. (Step 5) The final touch that could
turn this nightmare into an opportunity to create a loyal customer
would be a phone call after she redeemed the free meal to make sure
that it was good experience. (Step 6)
telling stories about you and your business. What kind of stories are
they telling? View every customer problem as an opportunity to produce
a cheerleader for your business. Turn your potential nightmare into a
great story. Do the right thing.
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