Groundhog Day has passed and groundhogs across the northeast did not see their shadows which, at least in groundhog circles, means an early spring. We may have an early thaw.
Speaking of thaws, what can be done to rekindle a customer relationship that, for whatever reason, begins to chill?
Like any entrepreneur, I don’t like losing a customer. I always tell my sales people we can afford to lose an order, but let’s work hard to never lose a customer. In the long run, our customers trust that we will meet their needs with the products and services we provide and, more importantly, they trust the people who work on their behalf. Of course, we all make mistakes. What happens when we make a mistake that puts a customer relationship in jeopardy? Many companies, some with previously stellar reputations, have lost the trust of customers in the blink of an eye.
The good news is that recovering isn’t impossible. Here are five steps to help you regain trust after a mistake.
Apologize. Immediately. When you find an error, let your customer know right away. Experience tells us that an error will be discovered, so it’s better to be the one to explain and apologize rather than wait until the error is discovered by others. If, until now, you’ve been mindful of your customer’s needs, one mistake is fixable. But do it fast and do it responsibly.
Explain. Apologies are wonderful, but alone they can hardly make up for a breach of trust. Every good apology includes an explanation. Detail what happened as you see it and why it happened. Do this honestly and it can go a long way towards rebuilding trust that has been lost.
Fix It. Fast. Do what needs to be done to make the situation right. Here’s a true example: We hired a dynamic salesman from my former employer in Chicago who did business with a very large telecommunications services company. He got his first big job from them, which was for us to develop an app for their annual W-2 forms. We proofed the job, re-proofed it, printed all 65,000 W-2s, and sent one to every employee. Soon after, we saw an error in the forms we just sent out. We called the customer, told them the problem and promised to fix it within 24 hours. We got on the phone with our supplier, re-printed 65,000 W-2s and sent the correct forms along with a cover letter to every employee at the company. We headed off a catastrophe by calling the customer as soon as we noticed the problem. Because we were honest, admitted our error and fixed it as fast as promised, we not only held on to a very desirable customer but we gained there respect and admiration for doing business the right way.
Hold the Drama. We’re human and we make mistakes. After apologizing, explaining and fixing the situation, you’ve done all that you can do, so move on and keep your eye on the prize (winning back your customer’s respect). Prolonging the negative attention won’t win you any points, and it may just prolong the agony.
Be Fully Attentive. Trust is something that takes time to earn. If the trust is solid, one mistake won’t break the relationship. But I can say from experience that your customer will be somewhat cautious at first, so it’s up to you to show how well you are invested in your customer’s best interest. Focus on providing quality service, treat your customer well and, whatever you do, don’t make the same mistake twice.
ONE FINAL THOUGHT…It is possible to thaw a chilled customer relationship. The challenge, of course, is having the determination to keep the faith that while painful, even the big mistakes don’t have to be fatal.