When mistakes happen


I believe there are 7 key mistakes (or sins!) a business can make. Any one of them will mean that they don’t deliver a great experience for their customers. The 6th is DON’T SORT OUT MISTAKES.

By this, I don’t mean resolving an individual error to the customer’s satisfaction. I mean failing to get to the root cause of the problem and making changes so it doesn’t happen again. Many companies put workarounds in place. That means fixing the issue becomes a low priority and never gets done. This always adds complexity and cost to the business and leads to customer dissatisfaction.

When something goes wrong, it’s best to be proactive. You can reduce customer calls by communicating with them if you already know about the issue. But when the customer is the first to find out, they will contact you. Whether you call it a query, concern or complaint doesn’t matter. I’ve even seen one company call it “an expression of dissatisfaction”. The important steps to take are:

  1. Acknowledge the customer’s concern. Show empathy, letting them know you appreciate that it is a problem for them. Phrases such as “that can’t happen, you must have misused it” don’t  help at times like this.
  2. Apologise that they have had to contact you. Don’t apologise for the failure as you don’t know at this stage that it’s your fault, but apologising that they have had to contact you and feel disappointed or let down shows empathy.
  3. Focus on listening.  Ask the questions you need to understand what has happened and how the customer feels. That way you can offer the right resolution as fast as possible.
  4. Offer a solution – explain what you are proposing, any timescales and costs
  5. Ask for the customer’s agreement – don’t assume they are happy with your proposal.
  6. Confirm what will happen next. It sets the customer’s expectations and reassures them that you will sort out the issue.
  7. Make sure it does happen – keep the customer informed if anything changes
  8. Follow up – follow up the customer to make sure they are happy
  9. Fix the problem – so it doesn’t impact any more customers

Following the above steps can turn a complainant into an advocate of your company. A customer who isn’t happy about how you handled their complaint will tell about 12 people how bad you are.  It can be 1,000s if they use Twitter! A customer who is happy will on average tell 6 people how great you are to deal with. And, fixing the problem makes future customer complaints less likely, helping you manage costs.


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