The latest customer service incident to go viral is the snub of a bride-to-be and her bridesmaids by Australian bridal retailer Gasp. A store incident sparked an e-mail exchange in which a shopper politely, yet pointedly, complained about her experience with a rude sales assistant. Instead of apologizing, however, the area manager criticized the shopper as “undesirable” and defended the employee as a “qualified stylist,” who is so good at what he does that the manager does not tolerate having his time wasted by those who can’t afford its exclusive product lines.
Judging from news accounts, Gasp expects to not only recover from this situation but also profit from the publicity. However, spokespersons may be confusing temporary fascination with long-term elevation of its image. In fact, the company may never recover from this very public mistake.
Serious customer service failures are not always so blatant. But even subtle miscues can be dangerous to the long-term health of your business. Here are a few to avoid.
Carelessly responding to customer inquiries
Answering customers’ questions is time-consuming and often tiresome. Most customers do their own research but generally want to tap your company’s expertise at some point. They may need guidance in finalizing a purchase decision, clarity about the best approach to a complex problem, or assistance with real-world applications.
Meanwhile, your customer service representatives may think that quick resolution of customers’ issues is more important than the thoroughness of their responses, particularly to questions that seem irrelevant. So, they share minimal information that, while technically accurate, is misleading. Or, in worst-case scenarios, they invent off-the-cuff answers or feign confidence when they are unsure.
If customers suspect sloppiness on the part of your employees, they will walk away immediately. In other cases, trust deteriorates over a long period of time as customers become aware that they have been receiving useless, even harmful information. Rather than serving as your advocates, they abandon your business in favor of companies with more patient, knowledgeable and helpful employees.
Attempting to justify customer service mistakes
If you have trained your leadership team properly, then they will know that all areas of your company interrelate to impact the customer experience. When a customer complains, these leaders consider the complexity of issues that need to be addressed in order to assure excellent service. But too much weight placed on internal challenges can make managers seem indifferent to the needs of customers. Apologies are couched in terms of company difficulties, not customer disappointments.
Your customer clearly sees the service error, and likely the problem that led to the mistake. Long-winded explanations and justifications by employees do not restore the relationship, but give the customer a reason to never return.
Making more than one mistake in the same transaction
A rational customer understands that employees make mistakes. So, when your company delivers a slip-up instead of a “wow” experience, acknowledging the failure and giving a sincere apology typically preserves the account. In some scenarios, genuine concern strengthens company-customer relationship.
If the transaction has multiple steps and is not yet complete, customers expect flawless execution after the first problem arises. A second error in another phase is catastrophic. After a second mistake, the customer reasonably believes that your company does not have the capabilities to provide the service level required. The past apology now seems more like a stopgap measure rather than admission of a momentary misstep. So, while honesty does make your company more real and people bond to realness, authenticity doesn’t trump lack of expertise or effort.
Misjudging a customer’s needs based on a false first impression
To formulate the right solution to a customer’s need in a timely manner, an employee may make quick assessments, which are usually reliable. In Blink, best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell explores how first impressions can be useful in making fast, spot-on judgments with a limited amount of information. Gathering too much information can be counterproductive, he argues; that is, more facts are not better and may cause people to make worse decisions than those with less data.
However, rapid cognition has a downside that Gladwell readily admits. First impressions, whether accurate or not, are difficult to overcome. Valuable information provided by certain customers may be dismissed as irrelevant and extraneous no matter how many times it is repeated and emphasized. These customers become frustrated and abandon the company to find a business with employees who listen and service their highly specific, well-articulated needs.
Preventing unrecoverable mistakes
You gasp at the thought of sending mean-spirited e-mails defending a snobbish, foolish employee. But less obvious service mistakes, if unchecked, can cause customer relationships to fall apart. Stem problems by training your employees with the following customer service tips.
- Listen intently, extract relevant information and evaluate needs carefully before dispensing advice, recommending a product or customizing service.
- Share expertise and offer guidance in navigating selections and making decisions.
- Be honest but not wordy.
- Clean up mistakes and take actions to prevent them.
- Eliminate the gap between your brand messaging, stated policies, and service levels.
Customers consider your company the go-to place for advice, products and services in whatever space your business occupies. Be the business that your customers want you to be.
Julie Rains is a senior writer at Wise Bread, a leading personal finance community dedicated to helping people get the most out of their money. Get daily money tips by following Wise Bread on Facebook or Twitter.