I was researching some notes for a talk on customer service and during that process, I discovered an article that had been written for CBS MoneyWatch in 2012. The story was about an airline that refused a dying veteran a refund after discovering that he was not medically cleared to fly. They even attempted to defend their policy, but eventually “semi-relented.”
Another airline had the experience of humiliating another veteran in front of a plane load of passengers, bringing the wounded veteran to tears. To summarize, the veteran was a double amputee due to an explosion while serving in Afghanistan. Upon boarding the airplane, several passengers in first class immediately offered up their seats. The flight attendants and crew would not permit the switch because the aircraft door was being closed.
As a veteran, I regarded these as examples of the most disgusting incidents of HORRIBLE customer service imaginable. These may be alarming stories to get the attention of a group attending a workshop on customer service. The fact is that, horrible instances of customer service failures do actually happen. So, we must develop a system or method of addressing the issues as quickly and professionally as possible. Depending on your profession or industry, your customer service issues will probably not be as severe as the ones that I described. It is possible to overcome a customer service disaster with a well-developed strategy.
Here is a 5 step strategy:
- Offer a sincere apology – The apology should be immediate, authentic, believable and unqualified. The apology should not sound like a damage control paragraph from the policy and procedures manual. Any apology, to be believable, must be offered from a heartfelt position. If the apology is delivered as if it came from the company manual, it will sound like an attempt to avoid any liability or culpability.
- Offer a clear and precise explanation – As your explanation is presented, be careful not to make excuses or be defensive. There are times when we will disappoint our customers or clients. Immediately, acknowledge your client or customer’s experience or inconvenience and confirm the desire to reach a mutually satisfactory resolution. If the customer service issue involves a product, ensure there is a match of the product specifications with the customer’s expectation of performance. Similar issues may arise in providing professional services and we must clearly understand the scope of work that the customer or client expects. Ask background questions, probing questions as well as confirming questions to make sure that you clearly and completely understand the client expectations.
- Use clear and precise language – Avoid vague, circuitous or patronizing language. You must be very specific during this process so that if there are available and applicable options, you can describe and explain them to the customer or client. This is a perfect time to reeducate customers and clients, with the added benefit of reinforcing the integrity of your organization. You should ask the customer or client for their resolution preferences so that you can accurately investigate the cause of the misunderstanding and offer appropriate options.
- Agree on a decisive and specific action – You and the customer or client should develop a mutually agreed upon resolution to the issue. Some issues may require approvals and waivers, so you should obtain these before offering them as part of the resolution. After the recommendations are approved, they should be presented to the customer or client. Customers or clients must be active participants in developing the resolution to their issue. Upon agreement, take decisive action immediately.
- Thank your customers – Thank your clients and customers for their business and their trust in you and your organization to ensure the satisfaction of their needs. This is a cornerstone of building long-term and successful relationships. Offer positive feedback to clients and customers. William James, one of the world’s best-known psychologists, once said, “The desire to be appreciated is one of the deepest drives in human nature.” It is often said that, “the sweetest sound in all the world to a person is his or her name.” Use the customer’s name often. This applies to external and internal customers.
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