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Opinion: Customer recovery strategy may save business

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My friend Sydney knows I’m obsessed with customer service and thought I would be interested in her experience. I am, and you may be, too.

Sydney woke up to a cold house on a very cold day. She called the heating company at 7:30 a.m. and they promised to send a service technician right over.

The tech showed up at 6:30 p.m. Not good.

He didn’t bring any tools with him when he came to the door. Also not good.

He asked Sydney if she wanted to tag along while he checked out the system. She said, “No. Let me know what you find.” Now, that’s progress.

He replied, “Your loss,” then went to the basement for 30 minutes.

He came back upstairs and said, “I better get some tools.” More not good.

He went back downstairs for 45 minutes. Then, back upstairs, he told Sydney, “I’ve got good news and bad news.”

Sydney said, “Bad news first, I guess.” To which he replied, “The bad news is there is no bad news. I am not going to sell you anything.”

Then he said something about a sensor that isn’t working and there’s not one with him – but they’re pretty easy to get if she’d call the office to order one. Now, Sydney is thinking that a sensor is important. “Like, will we die of a gas leak or something if we don’t have a sensor? But why can’t he order the sensor?” she thought.

“Next thing I knew, he was gone. He literally ‘ghosted’ me.”

Ugh. Sydney ended up calling another service company and paid them to fix a part that seemed to be under warranty with the original company. “I just couldn’t take the craziness anymore,” she said.

Time for a recovery
Here is a great definition of customer service: Managing customers’ expectations.

There is good news and bad news. The bad news is that, right now, someone at your company may be blowing up a customer. They are failing at managing and meeting expectations. The good news is you can often fix a customer disaster and turn it into a customer recovery.

The process
This is a brief overview of the steps involved in turning a tough customer service situation into something better.

  • Identify the upset. Did it get weird?
  • Acknowledge the upset. “You don’t sound happy.” Or, “I hear you. This is not going as expected.” Maybe, “Is this what you had in mind when you called us?”
  • If needed, buy some time. “Let me explore the situation and get back to you in X minutes.”
  • Investigate the situation and assemble options. “You needed help with a faulty furnace, and we veered off track. I apologize. Here are some options for moving forward.” Or, “What can we do to get back on track here?”
  • Work out the next steps. This takes active listening and your best communication skills.
  • Do what you promised. Maybe a little bit more, if you’re certain you are on the right track.
  • Follow up with a thank you gift, and perhaps an apology.

With each Customer Recovery, perform a debrief with the involved team members. Consider what went wrong, how you fixed the problems and what you can do differently in the future. Often, this will lead to a humble apology and/or carful clarification. Most of the time, the debriefs result in new or improved procedures and outstanding customer service.

Ellen Rohr is an author and business consultant offering profit-building tips, trending business blogs and online workshops at EllenRohr.com. Her books include “Where Did the Money Go?” and “The Bare Bones Weekend Biz Plan.” She can be reached at ellen@ellenrohr.com.

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