Great service is not about being perfect, it is about what you do when things fall apart.

Posted by on May 2, 2019

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As sure as the sun rises you will have a day when your organization did not provide an excellent customer experience. Customer experiences are delivered by people executing on processes supported by technology.  Those three factors all fail at some point. People make mistakes, processes can not cover every scenario and technology…well as seamless as it continues to strive to be, there is still down time. Acceptance of these facts means you need to have a recovery system in place for when the failures happen.

What makes for a good recovery system?

A good system starts with the acknowledgment that organizations are made of people, and that people are not perfect. Therefore, mistakes will happen. How an organization deals with a mistake is often more important than the mistake itself.Generally, mistakes are because one of two things happened:

  1. Something that was expected to happen did not happen.
  2. Someone did not communicate to a customer about what is happening.

Both are functions of customer expectations and the emotions that come with failure to meet those expectations. The customer expects something to have occurred, or the customer expects timely (as defined by the customer) communication about what is or isn’t occurring.

When expectations are not met, a simple five-step recovery system can be followed:

  1. Take ownership
  2. Listen
  3. Empathise
  4. Apologize
  5. Refocus towards a solution

Using this system, let’s look at a real-world example. Your customer was expecting that a unit would be ready to be picked up and it has not arrived. The customer needs this unit for their job site, and the unit’s unavailability is impairing their ability to do their job. Using the recovery
system, what do you do?

I am sure we have all experienced this situation at some point in our life. We ordered something either in the B2C space or B2B space, and it did not arrive when promised. Most times, I am told there is nothing the organization can do, and that it is not their fault, but their supplier’s fault. Actually, it is their fault, and if this happens for your customers, it is your fault as well.

Step 1: Take Ownership

No matter what has happened to your customer, you need to take 100% responsibility for their experience. Whether a supplier delivery is late, or it is the result of another departments’ actions or inactions, by owning the customer experience with 100% responsibility you show you care.

For the sake of illustration, each step will have a role play included that highlights a typical customer experience with a no recovery system and how a customer experience goes with a recovery system.

Customer: “My X is late. What are you going to do about it? It was supposed to be here today! I need it today.”

Staff with No Recovery System: “I’m sorry. The carrier has not shown up yet. Could you check back in an hour? It should be here by then.”

Staff with Recovery System: “Let me look into this right away. Can I get your details so I can start to track the package? I am going to work on finding this package for you, so you have it today.”

Step 2: Listen

Listening also shows you care. Your customer is frustrated because whatever they expected to happen did not happen. You need to hear them and understand why they are upset. Learn how their unmet expectations affect them.

Customer: “It was supposed to be here today! I need it today.”

Staff with No Recovery System: “Please check back in an hour. Hopefully it will have arrived by then.”

Staff with Recovery System: “I am going to work on finding this package for you, so you have it today. What do you need X for today?”

Customer: “I need it at my job site. Without it the job will be held up.”

Now you know the level of importance, because you cared enough to ask a question seeking to understand. This action allows for step 3 to occur.

Step 3: Empathize

Your customer’s frustration is completely understandable. Tell your customer that. They have every right to be upset. This is going to affect their ability to do X.

Customer: “I need it my job site. Without it the job will be held up.”

Staff with No Recovery System: “I’m sorry. I wish there was something I could do.”

Staff with Recovery System: “You have every right to be upset. This could affect your livelihood. I would be upset, too.”

Step 4: Apologize

At this point, you have taken responsibility for the unmet expectation, listened to your customer’s grievances, and empathized with them. Now, it is time for a sincere apology; that is sometimes all a customer is looking for, but you are going to do more.

Customer: “I need it my job site. Without it the job will be held up.”

Staff with No Recovery System: “I’m sorry. I wish there was something I could do.”

Note this is the same as the Step 3 response for the Staff with No Recovery System for customer-facing staff. They have no options. They can only apologize, an apology that, despite their level of sincerity, will leave the customer feeling incomplete and dissatisfied.

Staff with Recovery System: “You have every right to be upset. This could affect your livelihood. I would be upset, too. I take full responsibility. The experience you are having is not how our organization wants anyone to feel. This is not acceptable, and I sincerely apologize.”

Step 5: Refocus toward a solution

After the apology, it is now time to resolve the issue by diagnosing the problem. Customers don’t need to hear why the problem occurred; that doesn’t help them. It is time for you to tell your customer what you are going to do about their issue. This may be as simple as letting them know that you are going to immediately go to your manager and get back to them within 30 minutes, or maybe there is a ready solution available. Either way, the last step moves toward a solution for your customer and ends the conversation with the customer feeling that something is being done on their behalf.

Staff with No Recovery System: This customer-facing staff has no options, so the exchange ended with an apology that offered no solution.

Staff with Recovery System: “This is not acceptable, and I sincerely apologize. Now, this is what I am going to do to resolve this issue. Our organization can do ______.”

Customers are people. When something goes wrong, they want acknowledgment and a solution. It is quite simple if tools and training are provided to your customer-facing staff. Depending on your business, you may have to get creative, but if you work at it you will find that most of your
issues can be resolved by providing a few options for your staff to call upon. Better yet, after the issue occurs, create a process to ensure that it never occurs again.

Steve Whittington is President of Roadmap Agency Inc. He has also served for over a decade as a member of the Executive Team of Flaman Group of Companies an award-winning organization and has over 25 years of executive experience. Steve’s current board work includes serving as; President of Glenora Child Care Society; and Co-Chair of the Marketing Program Advisory Committee for NAIT’s JR Shaw School of Business. Previous notable board work included, Chair of the board for Flaman Fitness Canada, a national retailer, a Director for a meal prep internet Startup Mealife and Chair of Lethbridge Housing authority, the third-largest Social housing NGO in Alberta.

Academically, Steve was an instructor of Project Management at Lethbridge College for seven years. Steve holds a Bachelor of Commerce Honours degree; he is a Certified Sales Professional (CSP), Project Management Professional (PMP), Certified Marketing Specialist (CMS) and (CCXP) Certified Customer Experience Professional.

Steve’s first book Thriving in the Customer Age – 8 Key Metrics to Transform your Business Results teaches about the customer journey and provides a guiding framework spanning all stages of the customer experience. The book explains how every metric impacts an organization and how leaders can best utilize each metric to provide a stellar customer experience. Everyone knows the customer is the most important part of a business. This book provides the tools to improve an organization’s customer experience and drastically transform business results.

Recently Steve’s Blog has been profiled as one of the Top 75 Customer Experience blogs

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