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Make Screwing Up a Relationship Builder

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Business relationships, like all relationships, are not tested until something goes wrong.

When our flight is on time, our meal just right, and our repairs on budget, we don't really know much about the businesses we deal with. When we really find out what they are made of is when the paint colour is wrong, the delivery is late, or the pipes are still leaking…

What can you do to ensure your customers become even greater fans when something goes wrong?

  1. Get there before they do. If you get wind of a mess-up before the customer, try to get to them first. This has two advantages. First, people take positive note if you stand up and take ownership of a mistake before they even find out. Second, it doesn’t let your customer build up a head of steam, and she will be far more likely to accept a reasonable offer to set things right.
  2. No qualifiers! As the line goes in Erin Brockovich “Did they teach you how to apologize at lawyer school? 'Cause you suck at it.” And what’s the worst kind of apology? One that has a ‘but’ in the middle. Either apologize, or don’t. And any apology that starts “I’m really sorry, but…” is not an apology. The customer does not want to know why you screwed up, and they certainly don’t want to be told that they are part of the problem.
  3. Kiss and make up. It doesn’t have to be much, you have to materially acknowledge the negative impact of your mistake. Think of the value of the “make up” like this: value customer placed on original expectations + future cost if customer never comes back. That's more than you might think at first.  That’s why when a customer has had a terrible evening out in your restaurant, offering to take off the price of the appetizers is just an insult. You are clearly trying to buy your way out with the lowest ticket item on the bill.
  4. Make them almost wish you would screw up again. This is just #3 on steroids, but it’s happened to me. Remember the good old days when, if an airline botched your reservation, they would put you up in a hotel, with dinner, or upgrade your ticket to 1st class, or even give you credit for a free national flight? I’ve had all three at different times. And did it work? You bet. I was happy to book with those airlines again, and more importantly, for months I told everyone I knew how well I had been treated. And yes, there were times where I almost wished they would do it again so I could experience that perk!
  5. Provide evidence you fixed the problem. This is important but very few businesses do it. After you have made the customer feel like they mattered, and have moved them back into positive-word-of-mouth territory, let them know you have taken steps to ensure the problem won't happen again. Give them a call, or send a letter. You give the customer confidence that they won’t experience that disaster again, and that they are safe to refer their friends. And, you send the very important message that the customer was taken seriously. Saying I’m sorry well is one thing. Outlining the concrete steps you took to ensure the problem never happens again is remarkable.

At the Great Performances Group we improve the success of small and medium business anywhere in the English-speaking world. Check us out to find out how. Read Clemens’ book “Great Performances – the Small Business Script for the 21st Century.” Leave a comment or question! A Facebook “Like” is sweet too.

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