Fixing A Customer Service Mistake

“Drum it into your employees that their jobs and their bonuses depend upon the satisfaction of your customer. If your customer is not happy, they’re not going to get a bonus, and they’re not necessarily going to have a job, because you’re going to earn less money.”
Leigh J. Abrams, President and CEO of RV components supplier Drew Industries

If you work with people, you’re in the customer service business, and you’re going to make some mistakes. You’re going to misdirect a package, provide incorrect information, misroute a file, forget a deadline, or goof up in some way.

However, mistakes are also opportunities. When you fix a problem, when you right a wrong, you get the chance to learn about your operations and improve your operations … as well strengthen your relationship with the customer … IF YOU HANDLE the mistake properly.

As soon as you become aware of a mistake in your customer service, there are a few things you need to do … do right … and do immediately.

1. Let your customer know that you care.

And quite honestly, a lot of your customers may not think you care.

Take many of the high-tech telephone systems for example. Most customers see them as customer avoidance systems rather than customer service systems. They make most customers feel like they don’t count and the company they are calling doesn’t care.

I know I’ve felt that way. When I called one such company, I received an automated answer that said, “Thank you for calling our help line. Your estimated wait time is 55 minutes.” On another occasion, calling a different company, the recording said, “All of our help-line specialists are busy helping other customers. Please call tomorrow.” And it disconnected me!

My reaction to all of that? I didn’t trust their wonderfully worded vision and mission statements. And I didn’t believe their stated list of values, one of them being “customer first” and the other one “customer driven.” Their actions spoke louder than their words.

They forgot what Rusty Rueff, the senior Vice President of Human Relations at video game developer Electronic Arts, proclaims, “In today’s marketplace, people don’t want to be treated like a commodity. They want to know that someone cares about their dreams.”

As soon as you know you’ve made a mistake, or as soon as you hear a customer complaint, let the customer know you care. As the Bible says, love covers a multitude of sins. And in the customer service business, care covers a multitude of mistakes.

Take a hint from one of the world’s experts on caring customer service, J.W. Marriott, Jr., Chairman and CEO of Marriott International, says, “You can build the best hotel in the best location with the best rooms and the best lobby, but if the service stinks and employees don’t care, customers won’t come back.”

2. Take responsibility.

Don’t pass the buck. Don’t bother to tell your customer who made the error or who is to blame (if it wasn’t you). They DON’T CARE, and they shouldn’t have to. They just want their problems solved quickly and effectively.

To be effective at problem solving, you must be willing to be held accountable for mistakes you did not make. You may have to fix messes that someone else caused. And no, it’s not fair, but that’s life. Deal with it. Be a professional and take responsibility. After all, YOU are the company as far as the customer is concerned.

That’s the kind of extraordinary service that Jim Bell delivers at the Catastrophe Call Center for one of the largest auto insurers in the nation. He and his fellow co-workers have been studying my newest book, “The Service Payoff: How Customer Service Champions Outserve and Outlast the Competition,” and challenging one another to put the skills to work.

As a result of that study experience, Jim recently wrote me saying, “My last call of the week was from a customer in Pennsylvania. She was tired from being up all night with worry, and she was frustrated that she had not heard back from her claims adjuster. As fate would have it, when I opened her claim to view it, someone else was working on it so I could not access all the screens. I explained this to the customer and said that I would get more information for her when I could access the claim, and I would call her back.”

She sarcastically said, “Thanks for NOTHING!”

Jim emphasized that he would call her back but needed a little time to find out her information. As Jim continued, “Finally I was able to get into her claim and see that someone was working on her claim with her agent. When I called her back, she exclaimed, ‘You called back!’”

“I said, ‘Yes, I promised to get you more information.’ I explained what was happening with her claim and let her know that an adjuster would be contacting her soon. With this information, she felt instantly more relaxed and re-assured. She thanked me two or three times for calling her back. I simply let her know that I had promised to call, and I was not going to let her down. I wished her a good day and the best of luck with her repairs, and she wished me a good day …thanking me again.”

You see Jim didn’t cause the problem. Jim didn’t make any mistakes. And Jim didn’t blame anybody else for the slower-than-acceptable response the customer was getting. Jim is a Customer Service Champion who takes responsibility.

And I’d like every one of you to be a Customer Service Champion as well. That’s why I urge you to get copies of my book for everyone in your office.

3. Welcome complaints.

Even though you might not like to hear complaints, recognize them for what they are. They are gifts.

Your customers are actually giving you a free consulting service. They’re telling you what went wrong and how to fix it, and they’re giving you a chance to make things right. They are giving you a chance to keep them as your customers.

That’s why journalism instructor Jeff Jarvis says, “Angry customers are doing you a huge favor: They care enough about your product or service to tell you what went wrong.”

So please, don’t ever assume that “no news is good news.” Just because your customers are not giving you feedback does not mean they are satisfied with your product or service. A lot of them think like the following.

You know me. I’m a nice person. When I get lousy service, I never complain. I never kick. I never criticize, and I wouldn’t dream of making a scene.

I’m one of those nice customers. And I’ll tell you what else I am. I’m the customer who doesn’t come back. I take whatever you hand out, because I know I’m not coming back. I could tell you off and feel better, but in the long run, it’s better to just leave quietly. You see, a nice customer like me, multiplied by others like me, can bring a business to its knees. There are plenty of us. When we get pushed far enough, we go to your competitor.

Welcome complaints … because too many of your customers aren’t bothering to tell you.

As Case Western Reserve University found in their research, only 42% of dissatisfied customers will complain about their experience. And they do that in a variety of ways, from the:

*Voicers who tell the company there’s a problem and ask for satisfaction, to the

*Irates who complain to others, but don’t tell the company, to the

*Activists who broadcast the company’s shortfalls to anyone who will listen — including the traditional media, the social media, and the government.

Again, even though you might not like to hear complaints, you’re always better off hearing them than not hearing them.

4. Acknowledge the customer’s feelings.

Just remember … FEELINGS BEFORE SOLUTIONS. If you jump into problem solving the moment you hear a customer complain, she will probably think you don’t really understand how she feels, and that has the potential to make things worse.

You see … Xerox had it right years ago. In one of their training manuals, they wrote, “If you can see John Jones through John Jones’ eyes, then you will be there when John Jones buys.”

Unfortunately, too many employees have been trained to be detectives, to stick to the facts, and avoid all those “touchy-feely” feelings. But any such customer service training is misdirected. Customers need to know that you know how they feel.

One desk clerk didn’t get that when my friend Desi Williamson called down to the front desk to say he wanted a different hotel room. His room was a taxidermist’s dream, where every inch of the walls were covered with mounted animal heads, but it wasn’t his dream. The room made him feel very uncomfortable, so he told the desk clerk any other regular room would be fine.

Instead of understanding Mr. Williams’ feelings, the clerk expressed amazement. In fact, she was appalled that Williams didn’t like the room because it had hosted many dignitaries over the years, including heads of state and captains of industry.

The clerk failed to see the situation through Williams’ eyes and Williams’ feelings. She needed to listen and learn what mattered to her customer, not what had mattered to other guests at other times. She needed to understand how her customer defined quality and value, not how somebody else did.

When you’re confronted with a mistake or customer complaint, look for his/her feelings and acknowledge those feelings. It could be as simple as saying, “You seem to be feeling (insert a feeling word). Is that right?”

Of course, there’s more you need to do than these 4 steps when you make a customer service mistake or field a customer complaint. We’ll talk about those other steps next week. But if you start here you’ll be in good shape.

After all, mistakes are inevitable. As Plutarch, the ancient Greek essayist, wrote, “To make no mistakes is not in the power of man, but from their errors and mistakes the wise and good learn wisdom for the future.”

Most of your customers won’t remember you for your mistakes. But they will remember how effectively you resolved them.

Action:  When it comes to your work style, and when it comes to customer mistakes and complaints, are you more like the person who takes responsibility or more like the person who points the finger of blame? If you fall into the latter category too often, what can you do to take more responsibility?