A Comeback Story: How to Bounce Back From Service Defects

Last night, my alma mater, Western Kentucky University, played in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The Hilltoppers played Mississippi Valley State for the 16th seed in their bracket and a chance to face Kentucky in the second round.

By all accounts, it was an ugly game. With 28 turnovers and 30% shooting, WKU played the part of a losing team – right up until the final five minutes. That’s when the comeback happened. Down 16 points, the team managed to rally and came away with a 59-58 win.

Comeback wins are exciting to see. While it’s stressful to see your team fall apart, the thrill you get watching them pull it back together is priceless. Comebacks happen in business too. Whether the breakdown occurs with a single customer or is widespread, a well executed recovery can make things right. In fact, research has shown that a customer who experiences a problem, but has that issue resolved to their satisfaction, becomes more loyal than someone who never experiences a problem in the first place.

Here are a few tips to help you pull off a come-from-behind win.

1. Apologize. Occasionally I run into self professed “experts” who claim you should never apologize to a customer. They say that admitting you are wrong leads to concessions and a customer base that takes advantage ot you. Apologizing, they say, shows weakness and hurts your place in the competitive landscape.

What a bunch of malarky. When you screw up, the customer knows you screwed up. Refusing to apologize doesn’t hide the fact that something went wrong. Saying your sorry simply communicates that you acknowledge the error. It allows you to move from stating the problem to solving it. When you dismiss the issue (or worse, try to spin it as the customer’s fault), you show that you are out of touch have no concern for the value your customer is supposed to be receiving from their relationship with you. Apologizing doesn’t make you look weak; it shows you care.

2. Acknowledge the impact. Have you ever had someone who keeps explaining the problem even after you’ve apologized for it? That’s an indication that you haven’t properly shown enough empathy. In order for you to move the conversation past the customer’s frustration and into an agreeable resolution, you have to demonstrate your understanding of the extent to which the problem affects them.

Vocalize one or two of the impacts this issue will have on your customer’s time, finances, reputation or family. This gives your apology some meat and aligns you with the customer so that you can start working together again. You can;t start down the road toward a resolution until you’re both on the same page.

3. Explain what happened. There’s a tendency when resolving a customer’s issue to move directly from issue identification to problem solving. But customers want to know that we recognize the root cause. They want to see that we’ve determined the gap in the process that caused the breakdown. Otherwise, they may assume that we’ve simply applied a band-aid solution to a much bigger problem. There’s no confidence that the issue won’t arise again in the future.

I’m not advocating that you engage in a mole hunt or start blaming other departments in fron tof your customer. That shows a fractured organization – one that is likely to encounter additional problems. But a simple explanation of the underlying events that led to the issue can show your customer that you’ve done your due diligence and start to restore their confidence.

4. Agree on a solution. It’s important that you communicate with the customer in a way that allows them to agree to the course of action being taken to resolve the problem. Even if your response is painfully clear, you still need to ask for their agreement.

Customers often feel out of control when they bring a problem to your attention. They feel victimized. Asking for their agreement to a solution restores a measure of control. It also positions you as a partner rather than an adversary.

5. Thank them for bringing the issue to your attention. A customer who alerts you to a problem is doing you a favor. Most of them grumble, walk away and take their business elsewhere – never giving you the opportunity to salvage the relationship. To make matters worse, they start to tell their friends about the rotten service your company has provided. Your reputation is taking hit after hit and you still don;t even know there was a problem.

When a customer tells you about a gap in your service, consider it a gift. And since every gift deserves a “thank you,” give them one. Let your customer know how much you appreciate the fact that they brought this problem to your attention so that it can be addressed. Let them know how other customers will benefit thanks to their action. Let them know how much you value their business.

Even the best organizations have bad days. Problems are bound to arise. Service stumbles happen. But if handled properly, the realationships involved can be strengthened as a result. Oh, and Go Hilltoppers!

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