When service goes wrong, bounce back

NOTHING is more crucial than how a business fixes things after they’ve gone wrong. Studies have shown customer loyalty can actually improve if your organisation handles problems well.

We all try to get things right, but life is full of unexpected moments and, inevitably, mistakes do happen. While many businesses focus on getting it right first time, very few realise the importance of putting things right after they’ve gone awry.

It is when things go wrong that customers are most sensitive about how they are treated, most likely to share their experiences with others and most likely to decide if they’ll bring their future business back to your company or transfer their loyalty to your competitors.

Your customers are practical people - they know that mistakes happen. What they don’t know is how they will be treated when they approach you with the mistake or problem. They ask themselves, "Will they say it’s my fault?" and "Will they argue with me?"

When customers come back to you to deal with the situation, their sensitivities are heightened. You can make that sensitivity work in your favour. If mistakes and problems are quickly and professionally handled, customer loyalty can actually ‘bounce back’ to higher levels.

This is the key point: when things go wrong, businesses have a tremendous opportunity to build customer loyalty by quickly and generously setting things right.

Seven steps to better service

Use these seven simple steps to gain customer loyalty by ‘bouncing back’ with S-E-R-V-I-C-E recovery.

S-ay you’re sorry

There’s nothing like a sincere and immediate apology. There’s no need to grovel or apologise endlessly – one honest and sincere apology will suffice.

E-xpedite solutions

The faster you can fix the problem the better. Do whatever it takes to set things right. Costs will be forgotten or absorbed over time, but the benefits of enhanced customer loyalty last forever.

R-espond to the customer

Remember that you’re dealing with a person. Take the time to listen and empathise, acknowledge their feelings as well as the facts. And when it’s all over, thank them personally with a note, small gift or other special gesture.

V-ictory to the customer

Build customer loyalty by giving them more than they expect – refunds, discounts, special assistance – it doesn’t have to be money! But do it fast. No loyalty is gained from a refund or gesture that takes months to negotiate.

I-mplement improvements

Change your processes and improve training to avoid the problem next time. Make these improvements part of how you do business now and in the future.

C-ommunicate results

Spread the word so that everyone can learn from what happened. Provide full information about consequences and improvements.

E-xtend the outcome

Don’t stop working when they stop complaining. Stay in touch until you are sure the customer comes back and their long-term loyalty is assured.

What can you do to keep your customers coming back?

Here are some ideas to get you started:

Set up a telephone hotline for immediate response to customer comments and complaints.

Give customer contact staff the power to take prompt and significant actions for your customers.

Use surveys, ‘comment cards’ or focus groups to keep track of your customers’ changing expectations. Find out what customers are buying now and what they may want in the future.

Become a customer of your best customer. Eagerly seek out what they do better or differently than you and adapt it to your own business operations.

Long-term, loyal customers lead to lower costs, repeat orders, frequent referrals and expanding profit margins. Losing one of these precious patrons is much more costly than the revenue from a single sale! While service recovery does cost money, remember that a sincere apology costs nothing and goes a long way towards appeasing upset customers.

‘Bouncing back!’ through generous service recovery is a proven strategy for building repeat business and long-term sustainable profits. It’s not a cost – it’s an intelligent business investment.