When We Mess Up

I just read a blog about a big screw-up at one of the airlines. [I'm shocked! Shocked!!] The late service guru Ron Zemke formulated a 5-step Recovery Process when the inevitable lapse in service occasionally happens.

An apology.  Think about the times that you wished someone from whom you expected service never acknowledged that something was wrong.  We’ve all muttered to ourselves “not even an apology”.  You don’t have to confess wrongdoing.  [But if you were wrong, own it.  No one can stand a mumbling excuse maker, and you’ll probably earn the respect of someone to whom you displayed some courage.]  Just acknowledge that you recognize the disappointment, their upset, and express regret that the incident took place.

Immediate reinstatement.  The customer didn’t engage you  to receive your best wishes, explanations, and especially not excuses.  He just wants the expected service delivered.  So get it done fast.  I’m not kidding about 'immediate'.  Pick up the pace until you make good on the promise (or expectation).  Studies have revealed that customers feel better about service levels after a rapid recovery from a problem than they do where service problems never occur.  Go figure.  The key to redemption is speed.

Symbolic atonement.  Give the customers something for their trouble.  We all wish the restaurant manager would buy us a round of drinks when the meals are stuck in the kitchen instead of delivered to our table.  Pens, mugs, or T-shirts given away are a little too cheesy, so step up to be innovative.  Perhaps you could deliver something extra.  Or accelerate the deliverable that was down on the list of priorities but near and dear to the customer's heart.  Maybe you could buy him lunch in the name of investing in the relationship.  It’s not extravagance or monetary value that’s important here.  It’s making tangible the fact that you want to extend yourself for your customer.

Empathy.  If that sounds kind of touchy-feely, it just means that you express your understanding of what it cost the customer to have the service lapse.  Try putting yourself in his shoes and acknowledge that you would have been upset too.  It’s also a great opportunity to demonstrate that we understand his needs and expectations and the impact that problems have.

Follow up.  For heaven’s sake, make sure the corrective action really solves the problem.  Get completion with the customer by verifying that the problem is really fixed to her satisfaction.  Minimally acceptable won’t cut it here.  It has to be spot-on in the customer's eyes or it isn’t right yet.  One exception: if the customer's upset is more anger than disappointment, know when follow-up should have a minimalist flavor.  Sometimes, you have to get out of her face before she pushes your face in, but only after you made the situation right.

There will  always be problems.  Remembering that perceptions actually improve after rapid and effective recovery from problems, consider each problem as an opportunity to show the customer that you can be counted on when it counts most.