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Customer Service: When Things Go Wrong, Your Response Matters Most


No matter what business you’re in, there will be times when things go wrong while serving your customers. From forgetting to process an order to selling a product that doesn’t meet the customer’s expectations, you’re going to let your customers down. 

Customer service failures don’t have to define you. It’s how you respond to service failures that can make or break your business. 

A while back, I had a college roommate and her family coming to visit for a long weekend and I didn’t want our dog Jack to be a pest, so I thought I’d get him a nice toy to keep him occupied while they were here. My dog Jack loves plush toys; however, he also demolishes them within about 30 minutes because he relentlessly chews on them until he can access that elusive squeaker. Once he does, he’s “killed it” and moved on. Therefore, I went to my local pet shop looking for something extra sturdy that would keep him occupied for a while. Front and center in the store was a display of toys with manufacturer’s tags that called them “Indestructible” and featured a big rottweiler on the tag. I thought it was perfect and purchased one of these expensive toys.  

Fast forward a few days and I’m sitting in the living room with my guests who had just arrived. Jack was on the floor with his toy attempting to murder it. All was going well. Twenty minutes later, not so much. The toy lay on the living room floor, eviscerated and surrounded by its white, fluffy entrails and crushed squeaker.  

The next time I was in the store, I mentioned the incident to the owner, not because I wanted a refund or even an apology, but because I wanted him to be able to let his distributor know the product was far from indestructible. Here’s how the conversation went: 

“Hey Joe, I just wanted to let you know I bought one of these toys last week and my dog had it demolished in less than 30 minutes. It was pretty disappointing,” I said.  

The store owner replied, “Well, no toy is indestructible, you know.” 

“That may be the case, but when a toy costs $35 and is labeled indestructible, you’d expect it to last more than 30 minutes,” I said. 

The store owner asked, “Well, did your dog enjoy himself for 30 minutes?” 

I was dumbfounded at his response and walked away. As you can imagine, I never did business at that store again and not surprisingly, it has since closed its doors. 

How you respond to customer complaints, product failures or customer concerns can make or break your business. You can send customers running out the door, never to come back, or you can handle things correctly and turn them into raving fans if you take the time to handle these situations correctly. 

 

Apologize 

Offering a sincere apology can go a long way toward calming an upset customer. Too many people avoid saying, “I’m sorry,” because they think that means they’re accepting blame for the problem. Saying sorry doesn’t mean you’re to blame, it simply means you feel badly that your customer isn’t happy. If the store owner above had simply started the conversation by saying, “I’m sorry the product didn’t work out like you expected,” that would have gone a long way toward turning that conversation into a positive one for me as a customer.  

 

Immediate Attention 

Often times, service providers don’t simply ask, “How can I make this situation right for you?” If the store owner had done that to me, I would have responded, “I’d just like you to let the toy maker know they either need to make a sturdier product or re-label their toy.” You might have other customers that want a replacement toy or a refund. It’s up to you what you do in response to their request, but simply asking is the only way you’ll know what your customer wants and expects. 

 

Investigate the Problem 

In the case of the store owner above, he should take a good look at the toys, talk to his distributor to see if there have been other complaints and let the manufacturer know about the problem. It could be that it was just one particular faulty product, a particularly aggressive dog with a powerful chewing drive or the whole product line could just not be “indestructible” as promised in its labeling. If it turns out the toy is defective, the store owner might consider not carrying that product anymore — or wait for the manufacturer to make a better product before stocking the toy again. He could also look for other sturdy toys to offer his customer. 

 

Follow Up 

No matter the outcome, it’s great to get back to a customer to let him or her know the outcome of the complaint and your investigation. It would have been awesome if the store owner had taken my name and number and called me a few weeks after the incident to let me know that he checked out the toys in response to my complaint and to share his findings. Even if he called to say, “Amy, I think this happened because Jack is just a particularly intense chewer, so I have some other toys that are a lot sturdier that I can recommend,” that would have made the difference between me never going there again and me becoming a loyal life-long customer. 

As a business owner myself, I appreciate a customer who is willing to give me the gift of feedback about my products and services in person. Too many times customers won’t bother and will just leave you and move on to your competitors. Worse yet, they’ll say nothing to you in person, but leave you scathing reviews and comments on your social media pages and on review websites. What do you do then? 

I know it’s tempting to just delete negative comments so no one sees them, but responding effectively to a negative comment shows you to be human, a good business perso and someone who has the integrity to face unhappy customers to try to resolve situations. However, don’t rush to comment either. Think through how to respond appropriately, calmly and non-defensively because once you post your response, it’s there for the world to see.  

Keep your response simple with the goal of moving the conversation offline. A good response might be simply to say, “Amy, thank you for sharing your concerns. We’re truly sorry you weren’t happy with the toy you purchased from our store. We want to resolve this situation to your satisfaction, so please give me a call personally at xxx-xxx-xxxx and I’ll be happy to make things right for you.”  

A response that begins with “Amy, thank you for sharing your concerns,” shows everyone who sees it that you’re open to feedback and the opportunity to improve. Even if the complaint isn’t something you can solve, it shows you’re listening and that you care. Notice that I used the person’s name. This not only personalizes the response, but shows people you don’t just “cut and paste” a generic response to complaints. 

Sometimes customers will post a comment or review despite the fact that you’ve already addressed the problem with them previously. This is not the time to get defensive and respond by saying, “As I’ve already told you…”  

Instead, you can say, “I’m sorry that the solution we discussed on the phone doesn’t seem to be working for you. I’ll give you a call to see what we more we can do to resolve this issue.” The assumption here being that you’ve gotten the contact information for the person when you spoke to them previously. If, for some reason you didn’t get the person’s contact information, ask them to give you a call to resolve the issue. 

 

Amy P. Castro, MA, is a business, leadership and communication expert, author and speaker who helps organizations develop leaders and build amazing teams one person at a time. She works with pet industry professionals who want to grow their loyal customer base by building a “Best in Show” team that can deliver a 5-Star Customer Experience. Amy is also the president of Starlight Outreach and Rescue, a nonprofit rescue in the Houston, Texas, area, and she has personally fostered more than 1,000 shelter pets.    

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