How to Keep Your Customer after a Mistake

How to Keep Your Customer after a Mistake

If your customer experiences a break in service due to your company’s mistake, use this three-step approach to help save the relationship.

It can happen to good companies: Your organization makes a “relationship-defining” mistake with a new customer or, even worse, one of your best customers. How do you handle it?

On a recent client engagement where we were retained to increase sales force effectiveness, we got to see firsthand our client’s company reaction to an operational mistake in one of their aftermarket spare-parts service engagements. It wasn’t pretty.

Once the service break came to light, their first reaction was to go into “denial mode,” as they disputed the customer claim. After that didn’t work, they moved on to “shirk mode,” where they cited other factors that may have caused them to miss their service obligations. Lastly they entered “apology mode,” where they went overboard apologizing profusely instead of solving the problem in the first place. At that point, it got pretty ugly with their longstanding client.

What could they have done differently to remedy the situation and save the customer relationship? This is the advice I give my clients. It’s a pretty simple three-step formula that everyone in your organization should follow when there is a service disconnect of any proportion.

1) Get to the heart of the matter immediately.

Don’t look for back doors or contributors to help share the blame. If you make a mistake, own it outright and clearly. Don’t be wishy-washy. Be strong in your admission and stronger in your statements of reparation.

2) Contain and problem-solve.

Put your company’s energy here instead of trying to distance yourself from the problem. It will show your customer that your organization has core values and that your intent is to limit their exposure. Then fix the service break. You don’t need to be superheroes here. Be focused, listen, and act decisively.

3) Map the path to long-term resolution.

After the smoke has cleared and tempers have subsided, reaffirm your company’s commitment to your customer. Reiterate the steps you took to solve the problem — both the short-term fixes, as well as how you’ll ensure that the issue will not reoccur in the future. Very important: do it in writing. Conversations fade, as well as memories. Everyone will remember the pain of the service issue  — make sure they remember the short-term and longer-term solution. One note of caution here: This is not the time to be patting yourself on the back. You screwed up, but you made it right. That’s why your customer chose you in the first place.

Customers don’t like mistakes, and they have a bigger dislike for mistakes that come with a lack of ownership and path to resolution. Follow these simple steps above to keep more customers for the long term.

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