Are Your Recovery Efforts Hurting Your Reputation?

by Diane Berenbaum

Have you ever contacted a company with a concern and received a response that left you flat? Or, an email that addressed just some of your issues, but not all of them? These half-hearted efforts abound, yet organizations may not realize that they do more harm than good. Here are a couple of examples where organizations attempted to assuage an upset customer and only served to make the matter worse:

Lack of Recovery Leads to a Lack of Trust

A while back, I spotted new light-weight luggage in a highly regarded catalog with a reputation for great service. Since I travel around the country, I found the idea of light-weight luggage very appealing. The fact that they had a new baby blue color, which would be easy to spot on airport carousels, sealed my decision to buy a set. I was delighted when my three pieces arrived.

Less than a year later, the zipper toggles on the 27 inch piece were gone—most likely victims of airport handling. The suitcase was now nearly impossible to open or close, and it hurt to even try to do so.

After emailing the catalog with my situation, I anxiously awaited their response. Given the reputation of this service provider, I knew that my concern would be resolved.  “Will they send me a whole new suitcase?” I wondered. “They'll at least pay the shipping charges for me to send it back, right?  Perhaps they'll arrange for someone to pick it up for me—that would be convenient.”

And, then I got it—the response I never expected. Two shiny new zippers in a pouch arrived in the mail with no explanation. “What am I supposed to do with these?,” I exclaimed to my husband. “They can't expect me to have the tools (or the desire) to remove the old zippers and put on new ones!”

This catalog did make an effort to solve the problem with the product—they sent me the parts that I needed. But, that was certainly not enough to appease me or to fix the problem. 

An apology or an explanation would have gone a long way. And, I would have been satisfied if they had sent me a pre-paid postage label for returning the damaged piece. But now, I am disappointed and annoyed. And, I have lost faith in this organization, which I previously held in high regard.

A Card Retailer Ruins a Holiday and its Reputation

Personalized holiday cards add a special touch—our company orders them every year. This year, however, I waited and waited to receive the cards I ordered well in advance. It was getting very close to the holidays so I emailed my concern and requested a specific delivery date.  Take a look at the half-hearted response I got:

Dear Valued Customer:
Thank you for your recent e-mail. I have reviewed your order and it will be shipped out by Thursday, Dec. 16th. I deeply apologize for any delay in shipping.
If we can be of any further service to you, we can be contacted 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at your convenience, at 1-800...”
On the surface this note may appear to be “customer-friendly.” But, bottom line—

I still didn't know when my cards would arrive. They hadn't answered my question! Calling the 800 number in the email was fruitless, since I was informed that it was the wrong 800 number. I was then told to call a different number without any offer to connect me. Even the “right” department would not commit to a delivery date.

Has my confidence and trust in this organization been affected? Yes. Will I order from this organization next year? Unlikely. If they had answered my question, given me a delivery date or overnighted the cards, they would have salvaged the situation.

Six Ways to Respond and Win Back Customers 

It's clear that customers who have a problem that isn't resolved are highly unlikely to do business with you again. The good news is—research shows that if you can take a bad situation and turn it around, that customer will end up being one of your most loyal customers. So what can you do to respond in a way that will win them back?

  1. Put yourself in the shoes of the customer—what would you want to hear and/or receive? (For example, would you have been happy with a couple of zipper parts?) Chances are—they'll want the same things. 
  2. Acknowledge the concern and its impact on the customer. Send a message that shows you understand the significance of the issue and how it may affect the customer. In the case of the suitcase, it could sound like, “I understand your disappointment with the zippers and how they made your travels more difficult.”
  3. Apologize when appropriate—customers will get even more upset if you don't!
  4. Be proactive and keep customers informed along the way. If you know a product will be late, inform the customer right away and give updates on timelines. Don't wait until the customer asks you for a delivery date. 
  5. Provide clear, specific timeframes and commit to them. If you say you will deliver by the 15th, meet or even exceed that deadline. Otherwise, you will have a very disappointed and disgruntled customer on your hands.
  6. Ensure all information is accurate and that the organization can follow-through on promises. Don't be tempted to make promises you can't keep just to make a customer happy—that will most certainly come back to haunt you.

I'm still grumbling about the situations described above. But, how you respond to your customers will determine if they keep grumbling or keep doing business with you. 

Diane Berenbaum is a long-time contributor and former editor of the MAGIC Service Newsletter. She has more than twenty-five years of experience as a consultant, coach, and facilitator. Diane is the co-author of How to Talk to Customers: Create a Great Impression Every Time with MAGIC® .
Before and After
Before and After
Just one "tragic" contact can influence your customers' perception of your company (and their buying decisions). Listen to the difference MAGIC® can make.