Customer Recovery Strategy: Predetermine solutions to all top problems

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When I partner with a company that wants to build loyal relationships with their customers, I absolutely insist that they predetermine recovery strategies for top complaints. This single exercise positions frontline professionals to quickly determine recovery strategies that protect a company’s best customers from defection and strengthen loyalty after a service mishap.

Taken straight from our consulting playbook, here are 5 things I ask my clients to consider when generating solutions for all top problems:

Replacement

Sometimes the best resolution for the customer is for the company to replace the product. Clearly stating when this is most appropriate will help you offer quick and consistent resolutions.

Replacement “plus”

What I mean here is “make it a double for their trouble.” Let’s say you buy a new vacuum cleaner, get it home put it together, turn it on and it doesn’t work. You gather up the vacuum cleaner, the manual and your receipt, go back to Big Jakes and wait in line for 13 minutes to return it. When Little Jake exchanges it for a new vacuum cleaner, are you satisfied? Sure, you’re happy that the exchange was made, but you were inconvenienced big time. You had to take time out of your busy schedule to fight traffic, find a parking space and wait in line. And now you have to put another vacuum cleaner together. A good recovery would add something to the exchange to account for the “hassle factor”. Little Jake could say, “Ms. Smith, I’m going to give you a free package of vacuum cleaner bags as a concrete apology for the trouble you’ve experienced.”

Determine situations when you want to offer Replacement “plus.” 

Refund

There will be times when it’s more appropriate, even advisable, to return the customer’s money instead of replacing the product. Can you decide now when it will be appropriate to refund the money? Or, do you want your employees to make this call?

No compensation

There will be times when no compensation is warranted. Determining this ahead of time positions staff to respond with greater confidence and keeps them from giving the store away. 

Other

This might include a follow-up call or note to the customer.

Proactively generating best-fit solutions for your top problems positions frontline staff to respond to complaints with confidence and consistency and helps ensure decisions are made that balance both the interests of the customer and the company. If you’d like to learn more about positioning your employees to make recovery decisions that protect both loyalty and profits, consider partnering with me for consulting, training or an unforgettable keynote. Learn more at MyraGolden.com.

Myra Golden helps companies completely restore customer confidence in their brands after service failures. Considered one of the leading experts in customer recovery, she has helped hundreds of organizations rethink and redesign their complaint response processes so they are positioned to retain more customers, improve customer satisfaction, and increase profits. Myra has designed customer recovery programs for such companies as Verizon Business, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, National Car Rental, Michelin Tires and Frito Lay. She is co-author of Beyond WOW! The Service Leadership Approach to Exceptional Customer Service.

 

How to Genuinely Apologize to Customers Without Admitting Fault

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I’m sitting in my home office doing a run-though of my slide deck for a very special  keynote I’m delivering at the GMA Consumer Complaints Conference in San Francisco next week and I thought I’d share with you one of the focal points of the keynote: How to Genuinely Apologize Without Admitting Fault.

I’m a big proponent of apologizing to customers after service failures occur, regardless of who is at fault.  It’s important to me that my clients apologize to their customers sincerely and that they don’t open their company up for liability with that genuine apology. At the GMA conference, my audience will learn exactly how to genuinely and safely apologize.  Here’s a little excerpt from my remarks. I hope this helps you.

Studies show that an apology thwarts lawsuits and amasses positive publicity. Not only that, but a genuine apology after a service failure actually strengthens a customer’s emotional bond to a company.

A sincere apology after a service failure is financially sound and it helps organizations restore trust and regain goodwill. But many organizations steer away from apologies for fear of litigation. They fear a heartfelt “I’m sorry” is perceived as “I take responsibility.”

There is actually a big difference between an apology and a disclosure. An apology is an expression of sympathy, regret or condolence. “I’m sorry” laws adopted in 36 states protect the medical industry from litigation. Under the “I’m sorry” law, an apology is no admission of liability. While the “I’m sorry” law protects only the medical industry, all industries can benefit from learning to safely apologize to customers and in turn, reap the financial benefits of reduced litigation costs and reductions in customer defection due to dissatisfied customers.

An apology can be genuine and safe at the same time. Here are sample expressions of a sincere and safe apology:

  •  “I’m sorry that you had to make this call today.”
  • “I’m sorry for any frustration you may have experienced.”
  • “I’m sorry for any inconvenience this misunderstanding may have caused you.”
  • “I’m sorry this happened to you.”

Keep these 3 tips in mind when stating your safe apology:

  1. State only the facts of the situation. (NEVER share a haunch or your opinion as to what caused the issue.)
  2. Don’t assume fault for the mishap and don’t blame others.
  3. Apologize for the impact the situation had on the customer, not the issue itself. For example, “I’m sorry for any frustration this may have caused you.”

Making an apology to customers after things go wrong is positively related to satisfaction with the recovery. Offer your customers a safe heartfelt apology after a service failure and you will not only restore customer confidence and regain goodwill, but you should also realize the benefits of reduced litigation expenses and claim costs.

Now you can give your representatives even more great skills for delivering the best customer experience and for handling difficult customer situations. Sign up for my email list and learn specific tips, approaches and phrases to help your employees help your customers.

Related:

The Corporate Apology in 5 Easy Steps

Sorry Works!

“I’ll fix the problem, but I will not apologize for a problem that is not my fault!”

How a Complaint and a $14 Earpiece Improved My Customer Experience

My business was founded to help companies completely restore customer confidence and regain goodwill after service failures occur. I tell my clients all the time that a complaint is a gift. A complaint is a gift that can help you correct problems, retain customers and improve the customer experience.

A couple of weeks ago I got a complaint from a customer. Being on the receiving end of a complaint was a little strange for me. I found myself having to practice what I preach. It was time for me to listen to my customer without offense, work to resolve the problem and regain my customer’s goodwill.

My customer told me that the audio quality of a webinar she’d just attended was far below her expectations. I was shocked. But I listened and carefully responded using the 7 practices for handling complaints that I’ve taught my clients for more than a decade.  After I felt certain that I’d effectively handled the problem and regained my customer’s goodwill, I tackled the problem.

I played the 60-minute webinar my customer attended back in its entirety. Sure enough, there were times when my voice would drop for a few seconds at a time. I immediately knew what was wrong. I had broadcasted that webinar from my iMac. I usually deliver webinars over a Dell. My Mac was directly in front of me and my speakerphone was right in front of the Mac. Every few minutes I’d glance over at my Dell, which was showing the live webinar, to ensure everything was running smoothly. Every time I looked away from my iMac, my voice would drop because I wasn’t facing the speakerphone. It didn’t occur to me that these glances were affecting my vocal quality.

My customer gave me feedback on a problem that actually affected hundreds of people the day of the live web event. She was the only customer who took the time out of her day to give me feedback. This was critical feedback. I immediately went out and bought an earpiece to connect to my phone. Now I can talk and move about without risking good voice quality. My customer’s feedback led to me making a $14 investment in an earpiece and that little investment dramatically improved my customer experience for web events.

A complaint truly is a gift. When customers give you a complaint, see this as an opportunity to correct the problem, regain customer goodwill and possibly even improve the customer experience for your customers at large.

For help with seeing complaints as gifts, see past blog posts such as:

The Corporate Apology: How to Apologize In 5 Easy Steps

Looking for complaint letter response guidelines

Sorry Works! The Bottom-line Benefit of Apologizing to Customers

Helpful Phrases For Dealing with Difficult Customers

Sorry Works! The Bottom-line Benefit of Apologizing to Customers

One of the easiest and quickest ways to diffuse anger, create rapport, and regain goodwill with unhappy customers is to apologize. Offering an apology to a customer who experiences a problem should be a natural response from customer service providers. Yet, recent research reveals the startling fact that 50 percent of customers who voice a complaint never receive an apology from the organization.

Not only does an apology provide “soft” benefits such as creating calm, shaving minutes off of talk time, reducing stress on the employee, etc., but it can also translate into significant and measurable savings in reduced lawsuits, settlement costs, and defense costs.

Doctors and hospitals are beginning to discover what savvy customer service professionals have always known: sorry works. A new program for doctors, nurses, and hospital administrators called Sorry Works encourages doctors and hospitals to apologize quickly when mishaps occur and to offer a fair settlement upfront to families and their attorneys. The Sorry Works program has resulted in a dramatic drop in lawsuits. The University of Michigan hospital recently implemented Sorry Works and reports that the number of pending cases has dropped and defense attorney fees decreased from $3 million to $1 million annually. Clearly, sorry does, indeed, work.

Does a $2 million dollar savings based solely on an apology sound too good to be true? Let me walk you through exactly why sorry truly does work… here are the facts:

 Anger—not greed—is what drives liability claims.

Doug Wojcieszak, spokesperson for Victims and Families United and author of “Sorry Works” says that anger, not greed, is what drives most medical malpractice lawsuits. Further, Doug says, “Anger is generated when doctors and hospitals “clam up” and refuse to talk with the family after a mistake happens. Anger over lack of answers is what drives families to call an attorney to initiate a lawsuit.”

 The same can be said for product liability claims. When customer service professionals take responsibility for blatant errors and offer up a sincere and unreserved apology, they quickly establish rapport and trust and this results in problems being settled much more quickly—and more likely without litigation. An apology helps diffuse anger and reestablishes trust, and this makes everyone happy. The fact is, happy customers aren’t inclined to sue.

 The practice of apologizing improves the organizational reputation.

Research has found that when an organization adopts a strategy like Sorry Works, it develops a reputation for honesty.

 It is a positive practice to express concern for every problem— you’ll likely find that your trust and credibility will improve dramatically.

 Anger diffusion has been proven to reduce the cost of settlement.

Michigan doctors using Sorry Works say families often settle for less than what they would receive in a lawsuit because they feel they are being treated fairly.

TARP, Inc., a 30-year-old firm that measures customer satisfaction and loyalty, has found that an approach to complaint handling, which emphasizes diffusion of anger, actually can decrease the cost of remedying customer problems. Rational customers who feel that a company is concerned about their problems will generally accept a lesser remedy than complainants who are angry.

The simple act of apologizing to a customer can go a long way in diffusing angry customers, restoring customer confidence, and regaining goodwill. Not only that, it will most often decrease the cost of remedying customer problems.

When dealing with unhappy customers, apologize up front and work to quickly correct the problem and you will find that you save your organization potentially thousands in repeat calls, escalated calls, customer defection, and even litigation.

Tip: I suggest employees apologize when the organization is at fault AND when the organization is NOT at fault. An apology when the organization is not a fault might sound like this: “Please accept my apology for any inconvenience this misunderstanding may have caused you.

You might also wanto to read: “The Corporate Apology in 5 Easy Steps.”

“I’ll fix the problem, but I am not apologizing for a problem that is not my fault.”

I’ll fix the problem, but I am not apologizing for a problem that is not my fault.”

Myra’s response to:I’ll fix the problem, but I am not apologizing for a problem that is not my fault.”

This morning I delivered a workshop in Philadelphia where I introduced my conciliatory customer recovery strategy to a client. The sole purpose of my customer recovery strategy is to completely restore customer confidence and regain goodwill whenever a customer feels wronged. The keystone of my conciliatory strategy is to apologize to customers.

When I explained the “Apologize for the problem” step, a participant in the seminar quickly piped up and said, “I’ll fix the problem, but I am not apologizing for a problem that is not my fault.”  Another person agreed, saying “An apology admits fault…why would we want to do that?”

The expressions of these two participants are common and I hear this throughout the country in nearly every seminar I deliver. So, let’s look at their sentiments.

I’ll fix the problem, but I am not apologizing for a problem that is not my fault.”

Good point. Almost never is the problem the customer service professional is responding to their fault. So why would they need to apologize personally for the problem? I can think of several reasons.

  • It’s not about you personally. Of course it’s not your fault. But you are representing your company and you have a responsibility to actively work to regain customer goodwill. A sincere and unreserved apology conveys that you genuinely care about how the customer was treated. This is what it’s about…not you personally.

 

  • Recent research by Sorry Works has found a link between a heartfelt apology from doctors and a drastic reduction in lawsuits and attorney fees. The University of Michigan hospital recently implemented the Sorry Works program and they report that the number of pending cases has dropped and defense attorney fees decreased from $3 million to $1 million annually. (Wojcieszak, 2008) (Sorry Works encourages doctors and hospitals to apologize quickly when mishaps occur and offer a fair settlement upfront to families and their attorneys.)

 

  • Apologizing can increase customer satisfaction. Research by TARP has shown that when an apology is perceived as genuine, customer satisfaction increases 10 – 15%.
  • Real companies are getting real results. The Toro Company (lawn mower) has made an apology a part of their product integrity policy and as result they have reduced legal costs per claim by 78%. (Fleming & Asplund, 2007)
  • A genuine apology makes customers feel emotionally connected to the company. Gallup research has shown that a genuine apology can actually strengthen a customer’s emotional bond to a company, leaving him or her more emotionally connected than customers who never experienced a problem. (Fleming & Asplund, 2007)

“An apology admits fault…why would we want to do that?”

Actually, an apology doesn’t have to be an admission of fault. And it’s not even about placing blame.

The whole point is to convey that you genuinely care about how the customer was treated and to regain goodwill.

I believe in apologizing to the customer whether the problem they experienced was a result of an act of nature, a third party, or even the customer. It goes without saying that I believe that we must apologize when the problem is the fault of the company.

Here’s how you can apologize when the problem is not the company’s fault:

  • “I’m sorry that you had to make this call today.”
  • “I’m sorry for any frustration you may have experienced.”
  • “I’m sorry for any inconvenience this misunderstanding may have caused you.”
  • “I’m sorry, I feel awful about your problem.”

Several years ago I experienced a cancelled flight due to severe weather and ended up having to spend the night in the DFW airport. About a week after my mind-boggling stay in the DFW airport, I got a letter in the mail from the airline that included this apology.

“Although we will never compromise safety for the sake of on-time performance, we sincerely apologize that your travel plans were disrupted.”

Notice that none of these apologies admit fault or pass blame.  They are also all “safe” apologies. I encourage you to use one of these apologies today with an unhappy customer.

The bottom line.  If your goal is to restore customer confidence and retain more customers, you need to apologize to customers in the wake of any problem, regardless of fault. When you do, you create emotional bonds with customers and build and strengthen customer loyalty.

 

Myra Golden invites you to explore her corporate complaint handling training resources at http://www.myragolden.com/goldenRules.php. Corporate trainers can use Myra’s complaint handling training to train staff to completely restore customer confidence after any service mishap. Learn more by going to: http://www.myragolden.com/store.php.

 

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Fully Customizable Facilitator Kits Using the Myra Golden Training Method

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Training Kits Available for the Following Topics:

All training kits include:

    • Reproducible comprehensive participant workbook that drives home key points and serves as a reference point long after the training is over.
    • High-impact PowerPoint slide deck that you can use as-is or customize with your logo and specific examples.
    • Detailed trainer’s notes to help you quickly get ready to train.
    • Certificate for free consultation with Myra Golden – Consult with Myra about the philosophy, objectives or delivery of this training program before you deliver it!
    • Delivered digitally so that you’ll have this entire training system at your fingertips in minutes!
    • How-to hints for delivering the very best training.

The Corporate Apology: How to Apologize In 5 Easy Steps

Proud Businesswomen

You probably remember the story about dozens of JetBlue Airlines’ passengers being stranded for more than 10 hours on the tarmac without taking off. That was February, 2007. Would you believe that JetBlue still managed to get the JD Power & Associates Award for #1 Customer Satisfaction for the airline industry for that year?

How did they do it? They apologized outright to customers after the traumatic event. And here’s how they did it:

 “We are sorry and embarrassed. But most of all, we are deeply sorry.”

A lot of companies are afraid to apologize because they think an apology assumes responsibility or that it may put the company at risk for liability. And I think this is a huge mistake.

The JetBlue example assumes total responsibility, holding nothing back. Look at how JetBlue goes on with their apology:

“Words cannot express how truly sorry we are for the anxiety, frustration and inconvenience that we caused. This is especially saddening because JetBlue was founded on the promise of bringing humanity back to air travel and making the experience of flying happier and easier for everyone who chooses to fly with us. We know we failed to deliver on this promise last week.”

JetBlue’s apology acknowledges their passengers’ “pain”, assumes accountability, conveys sincere concern, and the apology is direct. Most companies are too cautious to pull off an apology like this. Maybe the willingness to offer a sincere, bold apology after a service mishap is part of the reason JetBlue has topped the JD Power rankings for best in customer service for four consecutive years.

If your goal is to restore customer confidence and retain more customers, you need to apologize to customers in the wake of any problem, regardless of fault. When you do, you create emotional bonds with customers and build and strengthen customer loyalty.

Following are the 5 simple steps to apologizing to customers.

1. Outright apology

Start out with a clear and direct apology. “We are sorry and embarrassed. But most of all, we are deeply sorry.”

2. Explain what happened and why

A fundamental, but often overlooked element of customer recovery is to provide an explanation for how or why the problem happened. Taking the time to explain to a customer what might have caused the problem helps organizations re-establish trust. Here’s how Jet blue explained what happened in their apology letter:

  “The storm disrupted the movement of aircraft, and, more importantly, disrupted the movement of JetBlue’s pilot and inflight crewmembers who were depending on those planes to get them to the airports where they were scheduled to serve you. With the busy President’s Day weekend upon us, rebooking opportunities were scarce and hold times at 1-800-JETBLUE were unusually long or not even available, further hindering our recovery efforts.”

 

3. Acknowledge the customer’s “pain”

Make an empathetic statement that responds to the customer’s emotions. JetBlue did it this way:

“Words cannot express how truly sorry we are for the anxiety, frustration and inconvenience that you, your family, friends and colleagues experienced.”

 

4. Explain steps you’re taking to minimize problems going forward

In cases where the problem was clearly the fault of the company or one of your suppliers, you owe it to your customers to tell them what you plan to do to ensure they don’t end up in the same situation again. JetBlue’s explanation is textbook perfect:

 “We have begun putting a comprehensive plan in place to provide better and more timely information to you, more tools and resources for our crewmembers and improved procedures for handling operational difficulties. Most importantly, we have published the JetBlue Airways Customer Bill of Rights – our official commitment to you of how we will handle operational interruptions going forward – including details of compensation. We invite you to learn more at jetblue.com/promise.”

 

5. Ask for forgiveness

Make a request for your customer’s continued business. You might do it like this:

“You deserved better – a lot better – from us last week and we let you down. Nothing is more important than regaining your trust and all of us here hope you will give us the opportunity to once again welcome you onboard and provide you the positive JetBlue Experience you have come to expect from us.”

Apologize to customers using these 5 field-tested and proven steps and you’ll completely restore customer confidence in your company after even the worst has happened.

Now you can give your representatives even more great skills for delivering the best customer experience and for handling difficult customer situations. Sign up for my email list and learn specific tips, approaches and phrases to help your employees help your customers.