The phone rings and you have a very unhappy person on the line. Your order went out late, was damaged, incorrect and the customer has a deadline he’s bound to miss because of it. It ripples because this was part of a larger project, and this minor glitch is now affecting his entire plan. He’s got his boss breathing down his neck, and he’s breathing down yours. You check your supplier, it can’t be replaced fast enough to make his date.
What do you do to calm, assure and retain your customer?
You learn the three R’s of an apology.
Customer retention is vital to a company of any size, for several reasons. First, it’s more expensive to land a new customer than to keep an existing one. Existing customers who are satisfied with your product or service are likely to become repeat customers. And they’re apt to recommend your business to friends and colleagues. 64% of customers who leave, leave because of poor customer service–and when they do–they tell 5 others why they left.
A stiff apology is a second insult…. The injured party does not want to be compensated because he has been wronged; he wants to be healed because he has been hurt. ~G.K. Chesterton
Delivering good news to customers is easy. Delivering bad news is hard. Finding and generating the customers is exhilarating. We like it when they’re happy with us. But sooner or later, we are going to experience a situation where we will have to apologize for something–and it may be something that is not your fault.
Customers want partnerships; they want to be assured you’ll be there when there are bumps in the road. Walking into an angry hornets nest is never pleasant. It can leave you emotionally drained, frustrated, and with a hurt ego if you aren’t looking at it from the customers point of view. Emotion is the biggest single issue in dealing with angry customers–yours and theirs. Putting off handling the situation is a losing proposition. There is always the chance the customer may decide it’s not worth the aggravation and cool down. However, there is also the possibility they’ll drop you as a supplier, or go all the way to legal action. A good salesperson would never let that default to chance.
What a customer wants is for you to acknowledge their anger and have empathy. The faster you recognize they’re upset determines how quickly you can diffuse the situation. It may not be your fault–your supplier may have been the one who’s created the problem. But to a customer, you’re the key focal point, you are the person of record and the responsibility of the apology has been laid in your lap for the damage done. You can show concern and acknowledge you understand how upset they are–and keep that customer.
The purpose of an apology is relationship repair. Be patient and listen intently to the complaint. Don’t hurry them. Let them get it all out and hopefully wind themselves down. Keep calm, your client may be emotional and say things they really don’t mean. Listen, take notes if necessary and don’t rush to judgment. Instead of wondering “Why a rational person would act this way”, think, “Have we done something to cause this reaction?
There are 3 R’s to a good apology.
Regret–Show true empathy for the problem. Put yourself in their place and understand and consider how they must truly feel.
Responsibility–Be specific. “I realize missing that delivery date has created a logistics nightmare for you.”
Remedy– Agree on a solution, a schedule and follow up to make sure it’s been done. “I have spoken with the production manager and the order will leave Wednesday. I will call you Thursday with the freight tracking numbers.” Sometimes a situation is already being remedied, and you are able to make a future promise. “I have flagged your account to make sure we use the proper carrier next time.”
A lame apology is worse than no apology. These include reluctant, insincere, part truths, sugarcoating, or forced apologies. Apologies with excuses or apologies made defensively. Apologies with the words “maybe”, or “if” in them. Apologies made without remedy. Apologies delivered too late and after the fact. Apologies containing insincere clichés. Apologies made by email are cop outs.
It’s extremely powerful to deliver the apology in person. A salesrep who walks into the lion’s den with no other purpose than “I’m here to apologize…” can do more to save a relationship than actually solving the problem. Email or voice message may seem like a welcome escape, but nothing can replace the customer seeing your facial expressions, feel your sincerity, and appreciate your courage.
You may not be able to resolve all issues as some events are out of your control. With practice, you can improve your ability to deal with difficult situations and retain your customers. This situation is a disaster, but you want to move forward together. An authentic apology — where the person admits wrongdoing, expresses real remorse, and does it without diluting the message by justifying is very rare. It is a very important developed interpersonal skill.
You will shock and surprise the client, retain them, even enhancing the strength of the relation by earning their respect and trust.