Repairing relationships when things go wrong
Mistakes happen—they are a part of life. But mistakes do not have to mean lost customers. How our organizations react when mistakes are made can create customers for life, instead of drive them away.
Most laboratories have a standard response when mistakes are made, either remake the product or refund the price. Those policies generally remedy the situation, but do they remedy the relationship? Jeff Mowatt, a Customer Service Strategist and Certified Professional Speaker, says, “Policies don’t fix relationships—people do.”
It is important to have a customer service strategy in place that not only fixes the problem, but also mends the relationship. It is when things go wrong that customers are most likely to share their experiences with others. By taking care of the problem, as well as the relationship, odds are that your customers are going to share a positive experience rather than a negative one.
Although apologizing and fixing the mistake seem like common sense, how many times have you as a customer been in a situation where you experienced poor service and received responses about the company “policy” when a mistake was made? Consider the following guidelines for addressing mistakes as you review your customer service strategies:
After a customer called in to complain, how long did it take to respond to the situation? Did the person answering the phone have to wait for a manager to get back from lunch or back from vacation? The faster you can fix the problem, the better. Empower your front line employees to make on-the-spot decisions. Train your team on how to treat each complaint or request
individually and how to reasonably respond.
When things go wrong, people need to feel like they have been heard. Let the customer share his or her experience without interrupting. Be a listening ear and then prove you were listening by paraphrasing what was said. For example, “Let me make sure I have this straight, you requested that we deliver a case before 9:00 am for a 10:00 appointment, and we didn’t get there until after 11:00. The patient came from out of town and could not wait so she had to reschedule.”
Customer service expert and author Jeanne Bliss wrote, “Saying ‘sorry’ is not admitting defeat. It’s admitting you’re human.” In her book, I Love You More Than My Dog, she notes one of the decisions made by beloved companies is the decision to say sorry. “Apologizing well and repairing the emotional connection with customers is a hallmark of companies we love.”
It does not matter whose fault it was, yours, the customers, or someone else on your team, you are apologizing for the organization. Take the time to empathize and express how much you understand where the customer is coming from. Explain how you understand what the customer’s expectations were and how they were not met. For example, “I’m so sorry your case was delivered later than expected and your patient had to reschedule. It must have been frustrating for patient to take time out of her busy day and for you to move your schedule around. I would feel the same way if I were you.”
Make it Right
It may be that the customer just wants you to recognize the problem and apologize or it may be that you need to take further actions. Also, let the customer know what you are going to do to prevent the situation from happening again. In the example above, it would be appropriate to send the patient a gift card for gas and to send the office treats for their next staff meeting. Also, discuss your time schedule with the office manager and let him or her know that you will be delivering one day prior to the requested due date.
Customer service does not stop after the customer stops complaining or you have solved the problem. Stay in touch with your customer to ensure they are satisfied with the outcome and that they will continue partnering with your laboratory. Checking in with the customer periodically, even when there are no complaints, to inquire about the quality of their orders, shows that your laboratory places a high value on the client’s opinion.
Use the mistakes to improve training processes or create new processes. Communicate to your entire organization what happened and how the problem was resolved. Using the previous example, you may change your prescriptions to include the appointment date and make delivery dates the day before the indicated appointment date. You might also work with your customer service team to make sure they understand turnaround and delivery times and can communicate that to your customers.
No one wants mistakes to happen, but when they do, use the opportunity to let your company and your customer service shine. Your customers may be more impressed by how your team handles a problem than when things run smoothly.
Deborah Curson-Vieira is the marketing and communications manager for Dental Prosthetic Services