By: James A. Alexander, Ed.D.
Don’t blow your biggest chance to quickly create customer loyalty!
One of the most powerful relationship-building tools available to services organizations comes from a situation most of us dread — screw ups — the installation that never worked or the problem fix that never stuck. These very things that result in a hassle for you and a headache for the customer are marvelous opportunities to turn lemons into lemonade.
Yet, even services execs with a lifetime of dealing with (and solving) tough customer problems often blow their chance. They (like all of us) are subconsciously attracted to adopting problem-avoidance tactics aimed at “minimizing damage” instead of embracing the relationship-building opportunities to “maximize value” that problems create.
See if these three problem-avoidance approaches sound familiar:
- Reject: “It doesn’t sound like a big deal to me. You can’t expect something to work 100 percent all the time, can you?”
- Ignore: “Maybe if we don’t do anything, the problem will go away. Let’s allow this to sit a while and see what happens.”
- Disagree: “No, it is not our fault. Those darn customers are always trying to blame us when they must have done something wrong.”
These attitudes drive behaviors that have a very similar impact on customers. Whenever customers face screw-ups (during a software installation or systems integration, for example), they feel two things: a sense of loss and a sense of dread. Loss in that they did not get what they paid for (expectations not met) and dread at the thought of having to go through the hassle of attempting to get the supplier to “do what is right.” Past experience has taught them that service problems of any kind are often a major pain to resolve.
Think about your personal history with service problems. Remember how you felt (after leaving three voice mails) trying to get the contractor who “fixed your roof” to come out and fix the roof when it still leaked? How confident were you of getting a timely resolution? Or, recall how you felt on the third visit to the dealership when the car mechanic smugly said, “I don’t hear any clunking noise at 50 miles an hour — you are just hearing the clock.”
How did you feel when your viewpoint was dismissed, and it was inferred that you were an imbecile? I’m sure you can come up with many more examples, but the feelings are the same — a sense of loss and a sense of dread as our patterns of experiences prepare us for agony and toil. These are not pleasant feelings! Your customers feel exactly the same way when facing problems caused by or related to your services.
As we all know, customer loyalty is the number-one driver of profitable growth.* And doing an outstanding job of service recovery is the fastest way to make loyal customers.** (See “Extreme Service Recovery” for an example.) However, every time you follow the all-too-common path of rejecting, ignoring or disagreeing, you lose an enormous opportunity to create a loyal customer.
People are so used to be being rejected out of hand, ignored when they complain and disagreed with when they offer ideas — that they are absolutely amazed when they are met with understanding, accountability and action. Furthermore, if your empowered team handles a problem with a service recovery approach, the clients will be impressed and delighted with not only your actions, but with you and your services organization as well. They will become loyal. They will tell others. They will become very valuable assets. So pay attention, as this can directly impact your success. Here is what you need to do.
Develop a Service Recovery Approach
Rethink your whole approach toward dealing with customer problems. Don’t hide behind old rules — throw them out and start over.
- Change your mindset from “Oh, cripes, another problem to deal with,” to “Sorry it happened, but what a great opportunity!”
- Change your problem resolution strategy from “What is the minimum we can do to get by?” to a service recovery strategy of “What is the best way to fix the problem so it stays fixed and creates a loyal customer?”
- Change your traditional metrics from ones such as “mean time to resolution” to “number of Champions (very loyal customers) created.”
Like most important things, you’ll improve both quality and buy-in if you involve your team in crafting your service recovery approach.
Create a Service Recovery Process
Figure 1 shows the five foundations of powerful service recovery. Read on and you’ll see that they are not only a process to be followed, but a philosophy to be lived.