When it comes to providing excellent customer service, brutal honesty truly is the best policy. This is what retailer J.C. Penney did recently upon firing CEO Ron Johnson after Johnson's strategy to attract a younger demographic resulted in a $13 billion decline in revenue. In a new advertising campaign, the company admits it made mistakes and alienated many of its longtime customers. The voice-over in its most recent ad, "It's No Secret" states: “Some changes you liked, and some you didn't. But what matters with mistakes is what we learn. We learned a very simple thing, to listen to you."
The next time your business makes a mistake—because even though you don’t want it to, it will—take a page from the J.C. Penney playbook, and use these following tips to get through it swiftly and smoothly.
Admit mistakes. All businesses mess up. They take a wrong marketing approach, sell products that aren’t fully tested or just provide bad service. When customers complain and stop buying products, the simplest thing to do is to sincerely apologize.
Unfortunately, in today’s litigious society, some companies hesitate to do this for fear of legal action. Other chief executives and business owners worry they’ll look stupid, and either try to pass the blame off to someone else or cover it up. Some business leaders look to protect themselves instead of helping the company move forward. None of these actions will win back your customers; the only way to do get past a mistake is to apologize sincerely and swiftly.
Show empathy. Even if a company doesn't think a mistake is its fault, show empathy for the customer’s point of view. This is the biggest mistake that airlines make and why they are rated so poorly in customer service surveys. When there's a delay due to weather, gate agents typically show no empathy for the frustrations of passengers. While there are many things outside of a small-business owner's control, you can train your staff to practice empathy when the customer is disappointed with an outcome.
Listen to the customer. Complaints are a gift to the small-business owner. When a customer actually takes the time to say what is wrong instead of skulking away, never to come back and instead complaining online to friends, this is a great opportunity to learn something, perhaps, and to win a loyal customer for life.
The trick is for the customer service rep to actually pause and listen to what the customer is saying without responding too soon or being defensive. The company must give the customer different options for communicating, including social media, email, phone, text and regular mail. Make sure there are processes in place to answer these the same day.
State specific changes that will be made. Ultimately, after saying “sorry,” the company needs to state what specific changes it will make so this does not happen again. If an action plan can’t be stated immediately, commit to getting back to the customer in a specific period of time to make sure that it gets done.
Do better next time. Customers get frustrated if they get repeat apologies for the same mistakes and nothing ever changes. Customers will not forgive when the same mistake gets made over and over again. This shows a lack of sincerity to take action to fix problems that the company actually knows about.
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