Chuck loves bowling. A few years ago he started his own team, the All-City Chuckers. He’s a pretty good bowler and people like him. His teammates depend on his ability to manage and encourage players, and he’s an excellent coach. But Chuck has a strange habit — he likes to carry around the bowling ball between frames. When asked about it, he tells people that carrying the ball increases finger strength. Maybe that’s true; maybe he just thinks it looks cool. But whatever the reason, this habit has become a bit of a problem because Chuck likes to talk with his hands. On a few occasions, a quick movement of his arm has resulted in a spilled beer or a close call with someone’s fingers. Well-meaning teammates have asked him to set the ball down, but he just hasn’t been willing.
Finally, one day, the inevitable happens: Chuck drops a bowling ball on Ellen's foot. It doesn't just pinch her toe or cause a bruise — when the ball lands, everyone can hear the crunch. People in the parking lot can hear her scream. Chuck knows that his actions are going to have serious repercussions.
Let's stop time to examine this situation. At this moment, Chuck has made a big mistake. His relationship with Ellen is as damaged as her foot. But no matter how bad the mistake, there is always an opportunity for reconciliation. The future of this relationship depends entirely on how Chuck reacts.
He can choose to do almost anything. He might say “Whoops!” pick up his ball and walk away. He might say “I am so sorry,” then walk to the lane and bowl his next frame. He might say, “Oh my God! What have I done!" pick Ellen up, take her to his car and drive her to the hospital. He might stay with her in the hospital while she's examined. He might take food over to her house for the next several weeks while she’s rehabilitating and unable to walk. He might drive her to work every day until the cast is removed. He might do any number of things, but his future choices will forever alter the nature of his relationship with Ellen. His behavior will either bring them closer together or end the relationship altogether.
You will make mistakes. Your actions following those mistakes will determine what kinds of relationships you build.
Mistakes Are Human
Part of the price we pay for our humanity is learning by making mistakes. We all do it. As you learn to walk you will occasionally stumble. Even the best math student will occasionally do a problem the wrong way. That's okay — failure is part of how we learn. It's easier to learn from other people’s mistakes, but when we make our own it’s up to us to determine what to do next. This week, we will examine what to do when we screw up and, by deconstructing that process, come up with ways to fix broken customer relationships.
When you open your business, you will make many mistakes. (That’s okay. It happens to us all.) When you damage a relationship with a customer, you will have to determine how to address it. Will you apologize? Will you make some sort of financial compensation? When is it a good idea to admit fault? The time to decide is now. Policies and procedures that deal with these situations are a type of insurance policy for your brand. If you know what needs to be done ahead of time, and you clearly explain these policies to your employees, many of these problems can be resolved before they get out of control.
All too often, business owners mess this up. They don't create policies and procedures to improve damaged customer relationships. They don't empower employees to think on their feet and handle situations in the moment. They don't acknowledge fault or, if they do, they attempt to redirect blame rather than just admit that they, like all of us, are fallible.
In an age of instant communication, a negative review can be written and posted in the heat of anger. A negative event can spread like wildfire, seriously damaging your reputation. But if you deal with the problem quickly, the damage can usually be contained.
In our personal lives it can be difficult to admit that we've made mistakes. But as entrepreneurs we must disengage from our emotional need to be right and look dispassionately at how we can maintain good customer relationships. It’s not just good for your reputation — it’s good for your bottom line.
- A negative event, when resolved well, can add to, rather than detract from, a company’s reputation. Customers may see this as assurance that they will be treated fairly if something goes wrong.
- Apologies can diminish the potential for a lawsuit, even when the damage is serious. When doctors make mistakes they can cause serious harm. But when they admit fault and profess regret, it can diminish the chance of litigation and reduce damages.
- A sincere apology can diminish the need for financial compensation. A study in 2009 found that found “people are more than twice as likely to forgive a company that says sorry than one that instead offers them cash.”
- An apology removes the necessity for conflict. A sincere offer of regret can quickly reframe a negative event. Addressing and resolving a problem quickly is the best way to deal with feelings of anger.
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