As a consumer, I’ve learned that the best thing you can ever do when someone royally stuffs you around is to ask the question: “how do you plan to make it right?” Now as the owner of a micro business, I view that question as a business planning tool. Service errors, catastrophes and a plethora of unforeseen circumstances can sometimes hamper client service experiences, no matter how consumer-focused you are. Planning for service recovery makes sense on many levels. Not only do you retain the customer but you create an opportunity for them to recommend your business to everyone they know. And we all know how important that is now that social media is used so extensively for consumer conversation.
Things to consider when writing a service recovery plan.
- Go against your own policies. Last Christmas, an Etsy customer in the US messaged me to let me know that her parcel hadn’t arrived after 10 days. I was heart broken because I loved the products she had purchased and really wanted her to enjoy them. In the end, despite a written policy stating that I did not refund for items lost in the mail, I decided to refund the money she had paid. Luckily for the both of us, the items showed up just a few days later and the customer was really happy that I cared so much.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate. If a problem you are trying to solve takes a bit longer to sort out, it is vital that you keep your customers updated regularly, and I mean every day. They want to know you’re working on the problem. As soon as the problem is taken care of, get back to them straight away, if possible, by phone.
- Focus on solving the customer’s problem, not on token giveaways. We recently went to an event in town where there was a major service let down due to equipment failure. The response was to give us free drink vouchers and a promise that we’d be first in line when we returned the next day. The next day the same thing happened and I’d already spent a small fortune on bus fare, plus a few hours of my time only to face a bunch of disappointed children with the news that we had to go home again. We did finally get there on the third day but I felt disappointed with the response. A good service recovery response would have solved my problem of stress, loss of money, time and inconvenience with free tickets to another session at the event or a refund, not a voucher for free drinks. It felt like tokenism and not a true reflection of my value as a potential repeat customer (and all the customers they would get through my good recommendation).
- Followup with your customers. Following up a service incident, is a great idea if you’ve attempted service recovery because not only does it give the client an opportunity to give their feedback (feedback helps improve your business) but it allows them to be heard, and to know that you care about them. A quick phone call or email to find out if the response to their problem was satisfactory and asking for feedback is often appreciated.
- Recognise that there are always people that will not be happy, no matter what you do. We want everybody to love us but sometimes that’s just not going to happen. When you’re setting up a small business, mistakes will be made but they are opportunities to fine tune aspects of your business that aren’t working well. I have definitely made mistakes since setting up my small business over a year ago and have used those mistakes to clarify my policies and better communicate with clients in the future. It is always a good thing to share how you intend to improve your service with people you may have let down along the way. People appreciate it when you’re humble enough to admit when you are wrong and take their feedback on board.
- Understand that sometimes there is such a thing as a difficult customer/client. I hate to say it but it is true. Remember to have some self-respect, and value what you have to offer. If you know you are not doing anything to deserve a negative response from a customer/client it is probably better to placate the customer as best you can and walk away with your head held high. You don’t have to take on board every person who walks in the door, especially if you know ahead of time that they’re going to be difficult to do business with. However, as a contingency for times like this, having clear written policies and clear contracts are important.
Planning for service recovery is really just a way of focusing your attention on meeting customer needs and expectations and on growing your business into what you want it to be. What strategies have you applied in your business to recover from a service error?