A man hits his wife, then apologizes and buys her a bouquet of flowers. He slaps her across the face, then apologizes and buys her a necklace. He pushes her down the stairs, then apologizes and buys her a new car. No matter how good the apology, no matter how expensive the restitution, this is still a relationship of abuse.
No matter how sincere the apology or how appropriate the restitution, there's little point if there's no attempt to prevent another mistake in the future. Customers want to know that business owners recognize problems and want to resolve them. The future of any relationship depends upon a belief that a negative incident won't be repeated. For this reason, an intention to cause no further harm must be part of the apology process.
Intention is the most authentic form of restitution. It is the physical manifestation of regret. When you say, “I want to make sure that this never happens again,” customers know your heart is in the right place.
This is the time to explain what happened — not during the apology. After the apology and the restitution, a business owner can provide some detail as to what policy should have been implemented or what procedure needs to be created. When you wait until the third phase of the apology to provide an explanation, it doesn't look defensive. Instead, it looks responsible.
Blame Yourself First, the Employee Second
Terminating an employee should be a last resort. It should only be used when there is no other alternative. When a business owner says, "I did not train this employee effectively," or "I should have created a policy to handle these kinds of situations," she shows that she is an effective leader. But when a business owner blames, shames or fires an employee, she only demonstrates a need to avoid taking responsibility.
If a customer insists that you fire an employee, ask yourself if that's the kind of customer you really want to have. Most people don't want to be responsible for an employee’s termination, they really just want the situation resolved. Termination never fixes the customers problem; it just creates a problem for the employer and the employee.
Policy and Procedure Followed by Training
Policy and procedure are your best assets. Changing the way you do business, even slightly, ensures that you're focused on the future and improving your business. But, of course, policy is ineffective without training. Demonstrating how you want situations handled is far more effective then handing a policy manual to each new hire and expecting it to be memorized.
Every policy and every procedure should be considered a temporary one. Everything can be improved; nothing is concrete. When you approach your business as a work in progress you keep it agile. Customers will understand that you are focused on their needs and, should those needs change, your business will adapt. Too many business owners hope that they can create one set of policies and never broach the subject again, but this is a mistake.
This approach has the added benefit of demonstrating a customer's value. If you change a policy after a mistake, it shows a customer that he or she was right to be upset and that your goal is to improve the customer satisfaction for all your customers, not just the one that complained. It demonstrates that you know that the incident would have offended any customer and that this customer is not an annoying, squeaky wheel; that the complaint was valuable and will benefit everyone.
If the situation warrants, reach out to the customer a second time. Sometimes we feel a bit guilty after registering our disapproval. We might be reluctant to visit a store where we lodged a complaint. But if a business owner reaches out and says, "we'd like to see you again," the work you did making the apology, providing restitution and creating positive, useful changes may actually result in another sale. Don't ever be afraid to repeat words of welcome.
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