Monday Mornings with Madison


Mistakes. We all make them at home and at work. In every company, employees make mistakes from time to time. We correct them and keep going. Every once in a while, though, there is a deal, transaction, order, request or sale that is fraught with problems, errors or mistakes from start to finish. The product or service requested bumps along, hitting snag after snag. Or, there was just one mistake made but it was a doozey! Certainly, every business owner or manager has had a transaction nightmare…. an order, request or sale that went terribly wrong. Sometimes the customer enduring the fiasco is an internal customer; someone in the company being serviced by another employee. Other times, the customer is an external customer; that’s to say, someone who paid for the product or service. Either way, when product or service delivery goes terribly Wrong (with a capital W), everyone feels the pain.

There are steps that should be taken to address both the problem(s) and the individual(s) affected.

Step 1. Seek to Understand
The manager or supervisor overseeing the product or service should seek to understand what happened. Usually, when a deal or request goes really awry, it is either the culmination of mistakes made by multiple people, a chain-reaction of mistakes or the misfortune of many unrelated problems coming together at one time. The director of the department or division in charge of the situation must first determine what happened and why. If there are multiple departments involved, then one person needs to take ownership of the situation. Not only will this help address the issue(s), it will also help avoid repetition of the scenario in the future.

Step 2. Accept Responsibility
The person in charge should accept responsibility for the problem. Whether the errors belonged to one person or, more commonly, a number of people each contributing their part, accepting responsibility (also known as ‘taking the blame’) is never easy or fun. However, for the customer (internal or external), knowing that someone accepted responsibility helps mollify upset feelings. It’s also more professional to accept blame than try to pass it off.  In fact, the manager should admit fault even if he/she wasn’t 100% responsible for the problem. The manager serves as the face of the company (or department) and the buck stops there.

Step 3. Give a Genuine Apology
More importantly, the individual(s) impacted by the mistake(s) should receive a genuine, heartfelt apology in a timely manner. Explaining what happened and accepting responsibility is not enough. It is important for the customer to hear the words “I am very sorry…..”. They should told that what happened is unacceptable and that the company regrets any inconvenience caused.  Moreover, the apology should not be given at the end of the process. The longer it takes for the customer to receive an apology, the more time there is for upset feelings to fester and grow.

Step 4. Rectify the Problem or Offer Reparation
Fourth, and probably the most difficult step, is to find a way to fix the problem. Some problems can be fixed. If it can be fixed, it should be even if it costs the company money. If there is no way to fix it, then it is important to make it up to the customer in a meaningful way. For a paying customer, that might mean a discount on the current or a future purchase. For an internal customer, it may mean going above and beyond to provide some compensatory service or support.

Once the problem is resolved to the customer’s satisfaction (or as close as possible), it is important to be especially careful to deliver excellent customer service to that customer in the future. If the customer is an internal customer, the department should aim to provide a level of support that goes above and beyond. That VIP service is not restricted to just the manager. Every person that comes into contact with the customer should treat that customer with kid gloves. That means that the lines of communication among staff as it relates to that customer must be heightened to ensure that everyone steps up their game. After a particularly bad experience, an internal or external customer has earned and deserves nothing less than ‘white glove’ service.

“A man must be big enough to admit his mistakes, smart enough to profit from them, and strong enough to correct them.” John C. Maxwell

© 2011, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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