Mistakes are unfortunately a part of business. Sometimes those mistakes are major, and you lose clients as a result. But other times mistakes can actually be a path to cementing relationships with your customers.
A couple cases in point. About five years ago we fired a vendor because they were making continual mistakes. Their data systems and technological innovation were weak, and though we liked their customer service team, we had to move on. However, the President of the company called me to apologize, and assured me that they were aware of the problem and had a plan to fix it. Every few months I would get a letter with an update about their progress, and finally a couple years ago they convinced us to give them another try. We were pleased to find that they did fix the problem, their systems are now terrific, and we have a great working relationship.
A few weeks ago I had a terrible experience with Embarq, my local phone company. After getting no relief from the customer service agents, I requested a supervisor contact me. To be honest, I have very low expectations from any phone company, and figured I would never hear from anyone. Much to my surprise, the supervisor called right away – and kept calling until she got a hold of me. She had researched my issue, fixed it, and offered a sincere apology, and accordingly my opinion of Embarq has really shot up, and I will continue to use them.
But unfortunately, most companies have not discovered the power of saying sorry and fixing the problem, and instead prefer to let their customers leave angry and dissatisfied.
A customer that takes the time to complain is often a company’s best friend. They give valuable feedback that ultimately allows an operation to improve their performance. They open the door to allowing the company to apologize and fix the problem so the relationship can be maintained. This is highly preferable to the dissatisfied customer that just moves on without a word.
My company, like every other company, makes mistakes. And part of my job is apologizing to clients – not only to maintain the relationship – but to also get input as to how we can be better. Certainly there is a percentage of customers that are true Whiners, and probably don’t deserve an apology, but in most cases I find they raise very legitimate points about how we could service their needs better. A heartfelt apology is an essential business tool, that is needed now more than any other time.