You Made a Mistake - Now I am Your Biggest Fan
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Pearl chose to celebrate her 94th birthday with her family and friends at a
local restaurant. Although she had always enjoyed the restaurant, she
specifically chose it because she was a member of its frequent diner program and
was entitled to free desserts for all her guests on her birthday.
She graciously offered each guest whatever dessert they wanted “on the
house.” The waitress overheard Pearl and asked for the card that was sent to her
announcing this offer. Pearl hadn’t brought the card with her. The waitress
apologized, but refused to offer the desserts saying “There’s nothing that I can
do. It’s policy.” Pearl was embarrassed, not only for forgetting the card, but
also for putting her guests in an uncomfortable position.
One of the guests asked for a manager hoping that someone would do the right
thing. No such luck. The manager repeated the same mantra, “Sorry, there’s
nothing I can do. It’s policy.” The manager “allowed” the guest to call the
corporate headquarters. Two phone calls later; a corporate manager said, “No
Of course, there was a problem. A big problem! Pearl was humiliated and
angry. No one left the restaurant feeling fondly about what had been a great
meal celebrating a momentous occasion. It will be a long time before Pearl or
any of her guests return to this restaurant, if ever.
What had been accomplished? In an effort to “save money” by not allowing
people to take advantage of the dessert offer, the restaurant had lost five good
and loyal customers. Doesn’t seem to be a smart business move, does it?
But it wasn’t just five customers that were lost. This lunch was such a bad
experience for Pearl and her guests that they’ve been telling this story over
and over and over.
People love to tell stories. They especially love to tell horror stories.
Interestingly enough, customers won’t tell stories about satisfactory
experiences. Too boring… what would be the point? But they will tell stories
about exceptionally bad or exceptionally good service.
Consider these three examples:
You order a new door for your home. The company comes on time and replaces
your door. Are you going to share that story with anyone? Doubtful. You are a
satisfied customer. End of story.
You order a new door for your home. They come to install it and find that the
frame was measured incorrectly. This is the third wrong door delivered. Are you
going to share THIS story? You betcha! Every friend and family member will know
the name of the company and they will tell their friends and family to stay
You order a new door for you home. They come to install it and find that the
frame was measured incorrectly. The installer apologizes sincerely, telling you
that he understands what a waste of time this has been for you. He promises that
he will personally make sure you have the right door in a week. Then he asks,
“Would that satisfy you?” When you say “yes”, he sets the day and time.
The installer comes the next week as promised and installs your door. You are
now a satisfied customer. But he wants you to be more than a satisfied
customer—he wants you to be thrilled—so he takes 20% off your bill to compensate
you for your trouble. The following week the owner gives you a call to see if
everything is okay.
Are you going to share this story? Without a doubt! In so doing, you will
become the company’s cheapest and most effective form of advertising!
So, how can you turn your disgruntled customer into your biggest fan?
Customers enter into every transaction with a set of basic expectations. When
you create a problem for your customers by failing to meet these expectations
you’re faced with meeting a new set of even more challenging expectations.
There are simple steps that will work to not only meet these expectations,
but exceed them. Imagine the following scenario: Mr. Jones has arrived at your
dealership to pick up his car at the promised time; however, his vehicle is
still being worked on. Mr. Jones is becoming irate. What should you do?
Step One: Empathetic apology. It isn’t sufficient to mumble the word “sorry”
and expect it to have a positive effect. Your apology needs to show your
customer that YOU understand how YOUR mistake has negatively impacted his or her
Step Two: Take ownership. You want the customer to understand that you are
the person who will fix their problem. Ask the customer what you can do to “make
it right”. Often people are afraid to ask their customer this question. They
don’t want to become obligated to meet an unrealistic demand. You needn’t be
afraid of their answer, because simply asking does not obligate you. Most
customers are reasonable—at worst, you have the beginning of a negotiation.
Step Three: Fix the problem immediately. In the case of Mr. Jones, you would
want to get his car to him ASAP. Sometimes you can’t fix the problem
immediately, in which case you need to show him that you’re making a sincere
effort to resolve the problem.
Step Four: Get your customer’s buy in. Asking for the customer’s agreement
will ensure that he will at least leave satisfied.
Try something like, “I am so sorry Mr. Jones—not having your vehicle ready at
the promised time must have really inconvenienced you. I will personally make
sure that your vehicle is ready in the next 20 minutes. Will that be
With small problems, these four steps should satisfy your customer. But
remember—a “satisfied” customer doesn’t talk about his experience. Now, take the
opportunity to add value, so that your customers will talk about how great you
are. To do this, you need to take two additional steps.
Step Five: Symbolic atonement. You need to go the extra mile to show that you
are truly sorry. A small token can go a long way to ease the pain your mistake
caused. In the case of Mr. Jones, an offer of a free oil change might be
appropriate. This gift shows that you understand that an apology alone cannot
fix the problem. Reflect on what you know about this customer and choose
something that has meaning and value to him.
Step Six: Follow up. This is where you can really shine! After a short period
of time, call, e-mail or write your customer and make sure they are satisfied
with your efforts. This is also an opportunity to ask for more business and
None of these steps take an inordinate amount of time or money, but they can
really create delighted customers—customers who will tell stories that promote
you to their friends and family.
Now, let’s go back to Pearl’s birthday lunch. Why wasn’t the permission to
provide the free desserts enough to turn it into a “good story?” The weight of
the damage that was done was so much more than the effort it would have taken to
make it right at the beginning.
What should this restaurant have done? An empathetic apology would have been
a start. “Mrs. Grey, we are so sorry that we ruined your birthday. We hope these
desserts will make it a little better.” (Steps 1-3 in action) But they needed to
go the extra mile. She should have been sent a letter apologizing again and
offering a free meal to compensate her for her discomfort. (Step 5) The final
touch that could turn this nightmare into an opportunity to create a loyal
customer would be a phone call after she redeemed the free meal to make sure
that it was good experience. (Step 6)
People are telling stories about you and your business. What kind of stories
are they telling? View every customer problem as an opportunity to produce a
cheerleader for your business. Turn your potential nightmare into a great story.
Do the right thing.
About the Author
Laurie Brown is an international speaker, trainer and consultant who works to
help people improve their sales, service and presentation skills. She is the
author of The Teleprompter Manual, for Executives, Politicians, Broadcasters and
Speakers. Laurie can be contacted through
http://www.thedifference.net, or 1-877.999.3433, or at
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