“Healing” Customer Service (Part 1)

For stressed employees dealing with stressed customers (especially during this year’s holiday season) – here’s a timely guest post from customer service/loyalty consultant, Chip Bell. [Note: due to content length, I’m posting this in two parts.]

How to Turn an “Oops” Into an Opportunity
By Chip R. Bell

Customers do NOT expect organizations to provide perfect service!

Now, before you lower your service standards, know that frequent foul ups will lead to a fast exit for customers. And, with the growing number of organizations going out of business in a challenging economy, customer loyalty is not only important to success, it has become critical to survival!

If you handle service failures effectively, you can turn customer disdain into customer delight. Research shows that customers who have had their service problem spectacularly solved wind up more loyal than customers who have never even had a problem! How come?

Customers are becoming more and more insistent on service laced with trust. The research of Dr. Leonard Berry of Texas A&M University shows that, of all the qualities customers expect these days–accuracy, responsiveness, or empathy–they value reliability the most. Reliability means “Can I trust you to do what you say you’ll do?” Service recovery is about restoring customers’ trust after a service failure has left them disappointed or angry.

When a customer has a disappointing experience with service, the number one goal is to return the customer back to normal. How do you effectively manage betrayed trust? What steps work best in providing spectacular recovery?

First, think of service recovery as an opportunity to restore trust and rebuild loyalty. Customers who have never had a service problem are uncertain as to how you might handle it. However, if you provide great recovery after a customer has been disappointed, you offer proof and renew their faith in you. When they see you shine at your darkest hour, they end up with more confidence, not less. More customer confidence leads to greater customer loyalty. And, more loyalty leads to customers who buy more, forgive more, and tell others about you.

The key to converting a livid customer into a loyal customer lies not in “buying” back devotion (“How about I give you…your money back? A free car? A trip around the world?”). Sure, sometimes a symbol or gesture of sorrow can help. But, the most valuable key to recovery is the way you communicate in a healing manner.

Step 1: Show Your Humility

Healing communication begins with Humility…an expression of authenticity. Never let customers hear you say “We’re sorry.” Apology should always be delivered in first person singular–”I’m sorry.” “I’m sorry” doesn’t suggest you caused the problem…or that you’re automatically the culprit. “I’m sorry” means “I care.” Obviously, the tone you use to communicate is important. Even sincere apologies need to be communicated with confidence.

Lower your voice. Let the customer witness your genuine concern. Always look the customer straight in the eye. Be forthright and direct. There’s no need for a “tail between your legs,” cowering down style. Things went wrong; the customer was disappointed. Acknowledge it honestly and frankly, and be ready to learn from it and move on. Model the behavior you would like the customer to assume—calm and confident.

Step 2: Express Empathy

Healing communication include expressions of Empathy…words and actions that let customers know you understand their pain and predicament. It does not mean the front line has to wallow in bad feelings. Empathy communicates identification. There is an old saying which goes: “You’re not qualified to change my view until you first demonstrate you understand my view.” Whether you like or disagree with the customer’s view is not the point. The goal is to give evidence you understand. Fix your customer before you fix your customer’s problem.

Empathy doesn’t mean the same as sympathy. The word “sympathy” originates from the Greek word sympathos and means “shared pain;” “empathy” means “in tune with pain.” Customers don’t want someone to cry with (shared weakness), they want an understanding shoulder to cry on (the gift of strength). And, this doesn’t mean bad mouthing the organization. When customers hear employees saying, “I know what you mean, I wouldn’t eat here either if I didn’t work here,” they walk away with less than confident feelings about the restaurant.

Customers seek someone to value and care about their concern. Remember, the customer’s orientation when things go wrong is this: I don’t care how much you know, until I know how much you care. Show you care.

[Note: Step 3 – involving Agility, and Step 4 – demonstrating Loyalty, will be featured in next week’s post. So stay tuned!]

Chip R. Bell is co-author (with John R. Patterson) of the best-selling book Take Their Breath Away: How Imaginative Service Creates Devoted Customers. He can be reached at www.taketheirbreathaway.com.

One Comments

  • Order taking service September 29, 2010 Reply

    Good customer service is an integral part of business. It affects important brand and business objectives like customer satisfaction, loyalty and etc. Anyways, thanks for the post! The ideas and insights are very worth reading.

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