One of the best benefits of building strong relationships with customers comes when you inevitably screw up. Customers are so much more forgiving and understanding of mistakes if you have built a relationship. When something doesn’t go right, you have a golden opportunity to demonstrate to your customers that you pose zero risk to them. What does zero risk look like? As a customer, it means you are sure that when you deal with a company and something goes wrong, they will make it right.
When a problem arises with a customer, it gives us the opportunity to be a hero and own that customer for life. I have always had a saying in my businesses, “If it gets to me, it is free.” This was meant to make sure all my employees, including those on the front line, take care of anything that arises. No one wants to contact the GM or call the owner. If they do, clearly the situation has gotten out of hand.
I also have a saying: “You will never get in trouble for something you do, only for something you don’t do.” Meaning: Just take care of the customer. Be naive instead of paranoid. Trust the customer.
One of my favorite all-time customer service recovery stories happened several years ago when I was involved day-to-day in my first business, John Robert’s Spa. A client called me to tell me one of my hairdressers had gotten hair color on her blazer. I apologized and offered to pay to get her blazer cleaned. The client said it could not be cleaned; the stain was permanent. I again apologized and offered to replace the blazer, but she said it was part of an outfit no longer available, and the outfit was worthless now that the blazer was ruined.
I told her I would put a check in the mail for the cost of the outfit. She was stunned and told me it cost $250 and asked if I wanted to see the blazer or receipt. I told her neither was necessary, and she seemed extremely happy. After we hung up, I looked up her history in our computer system and found that she had been coming to our salon about seven times a year for the last several years. I also noticed she had never referred anyone. So I sent her the check and included a John Robert’s gift certificate for the trouble and inconvenience that we had caused.
About a year later, I was curious to see if we had retained her. When I looked her up, I saw that she was still coming in regularly. However, I was shocked to see she had also referred 18 new customers that year. What kind of advertising could I buy for $250 that would get me 18 new customers? I told all my stylists to start spilling color on everyone’s clothes!
“While they may complain about the service defect, they will rave at how well we handled it.”
Customers are irrational
It is rational for customers to be irrational. When emotions are involved, logic disappears. Emotions outpower and manipulate our reasoning and lead to action. It’s no accident that customer experience can trigger a wide array of emotions that can have a great influence on repeat business. Sometimes we don’t know why we like going to a certain place, nevertheless something drives us to stop there. We may try to find a logical excuse, perhaps pointing to convenience or some other factor. But the truth is, the business delivered a unique experience that left a positive subconscious impression. On the other hand, negative thoughts about a brand are often caused by a poor experience that left a permanent blot in our memory.
It can be confusing and frustrating for employees when customers react unreasonably to something that seems minor. However, when a customer has expectations–not unrealistic expectations, but simple ones about what it will be like to do business with you–and the business fails to deliver, the customer can get emotional. Even though it may have been the first time the company messed up, the customer may still react irrationally.
Daniel Kahneman, a psychology professor at Princeton, is a Nobel Prize winner for his research on how we behave emotionally first, rationally second. As human beings, our emotions are the most powerful factor in how we respond and interact with others. For that reason, it is critical that dealing with customer emotions–especially those of dissatisfied customers–is part of service-recovery training for employees. Once employees understand there is a good probability of a customer’s reacting emotionally instead of rationally, they won’t take it personally and are better able to make a brilliant comeback. The watchword for employees should be QTIP–Quit Taking It Personally.
John R. DiJulius III, author of The Customer Service Revolution, is president of The DiJulius Group, a customer service consulting firm that works with companies including Starbucks, Chick-fil-A, Ritz-Carlton, Nestle, PwC, Lexus, and many more. Contact him at 216-839-1430 or firstname.lastname@example.org.