The Customer Service Forgive And Forget

failAre you familiar with this conversation?

Me: “Hey babe, I’m on my way home.”

Wife: “Great. See you soon. BTW, the kids have been crazy. I have no idea what to have for dinner.”

Me: “No problem.  Can you call in an order and I can pick it up on my way home?”

Wife: “Sure, what do you want?”

Me: “How about Rubio’s Baja Grill?  I love their salmon burrito.”

Wife: “Sounds good. The order will be under my name.”

You get the drift, right?  I am a huge fan of Rubio’s with their healthy Mexican food options at a reasonable price.  On one recent visit, I found out that I had paid for three kids meals when I in fact only ordered two.  The friendly employee, Gigi, offered to either comp me a free meal on my next visit or refund me for the extra meal.  Knowing I would return, I opted for the free meal.  The awesome Gigi ended up giving me two free meals.  I was elated that for the price of a kids meal, I got two free meals.  This is a case of a service recovery that potentially increased my loyalty as a customer.

That encounter got me thinking a bit more about the service recovery.  I spoke with two separate customers today who had disappointing experiences with our service.  To put it bluntly, we failed and I had no choice but to admit fault and try to move forward to a resolution.  One customer just recently signed us with us, while the other has been loyal for several years.

A common thread in both conversations was that the failure had caused a significant amount of frustration, and the customer was unsure as to whether they could trust that this wouldn’t happen again.  These situations are so tricky!  Trust is so fragile and when it has been damaged, “forgive and forget” can be a tall order.  Here are a few common tactics one might employ when they trying to resolve a service failure:

1. Be apologetic and empathetic- While this is an essential ingredient to a service recovery, this alone may not be enough to restore trust.  This must be followed up with a plan to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

2. Offer compensation- It amazes me how many customers really don’t want compensation.  Again, they are more interested in ensuring that the issue never happens again.

3. Resolve their issue- Fixing the issue is a must but why didn’t we get it right the first time? The customer is going to wonder if they are going to get the run around any time they have an issue.

Any combination of these three tactics may very well be enough to recover from a service failure and save a customer but is it enough to be forgiven?  The missing ingredient here is to take full and complete ownership of the customer.  It’s critical to make sure that a frustrated customer knows that someone on the inside is on their side, and that they have a clear path to reach that person.  It’s through that relationship that they build a connection to your company.

Finally, keep in mind that a pattern where management has to take on customers in order to recover from service failure doesn’t scale well.  It is absolutely essential that the root cause of this failure be corrected to prevent recurrence.  A customer may be willing to forgive the first time, but don’t bank on that happening twice!

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Jeremy Watkin is the Director of Customer Experience at FCR, the premiere provider of outsourced call center and business process solutions. He has more than 17 years of experience as a customer service and experience professional. He is co-founder of the Customer Service Life blog and a regular contributor. Jeremy has been recognized many times for his thought leadership. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn for more awesome customer service and experience insights.

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