Once you've made an apology, it's time to begin repairing the damage. We'll use the word “restitution,” to describe this second phase of the apology process.
“Restitution” comes from the Latin roots “re-“ and “statuere” — to establish again. This is precisely the purpose of restitution: to establish again the relationship that was damaged by some blunder. In order for an exchange to occur, the money a customer trades for your goods and services must equal the value that they feel in their minds. But when a customer is mistreated, that balance changes. Restitution is an attempt to rebalance the scales.
Listen and Respond Appropriately
One of the most difficult aspects of restitution is the creation of an appropriate gesture. If a waitress spills a glass of ice tea she doesn't need to give the customer keys to a new car. But if she dumps a tray of food on a customer's head, free dessert may be insufficient. Each situation calls for some amount of judgement, but there's one simple method to arrive at a good resolution: the best way to determine an appropriate response is simply to listen.
As described in the apology article posted yesterday, it may be that your customer will tell you precisely what he wants. Armed with this information, you can do a much better job of repairing the damage. It’s entirely possible that your customer will be satisfied with something less than you might have offered. It may be that you're attempt at restitution is entirely inappropriate in the customer's mind. Or, you may find out that the customer wants far more then you find appropriate. In this case, you may understand that the relationship can never be repaired. So be it. Regardless, listening will provide you with information that can help you determine the best course of action.
One of the best ways to create benefit from mistakes is to provide your employees with an opportunity to create restitution on their own. When you allow your customers and your employees to work out a situation between themselves it can be resolved much more quickly than if every detail must be passed up the chain of command. And as we've seen, handling the situation quickly keeps it from spreading.
A creative, individualized solution is always the right way to go. It creates a more positive experience, since the individual is seen as an individual, not a nameless, faceless customer (which is often the source of the problem in the first place). And, of course, your customer is the best person to tell you what works for them.
Let’s say a waitress spills a glass of wine on a patron. If you own the restaurant, there’s no rule that says you must compensate for the accident with more food served in your restaurant — that kind of restitution can be seen as self interest. Instead, set up an appointment with a personal shopper at a boutique and pay for some new clothing. If the spilled wine ruined an evening out, give the customer vouchers for free tickets at a nearby theater. Offer a nice bottle of wine to take home (assuming the laws in your state allow it). It's easy to comp the meal. But if that's all you do, the story will be about the wine. If you do something creative, when the customer tells the story (and you can be sure that she will) it will be about the resolution, not the mistake.
If a creative solution is not possible, it's a good idea to come to the table with a number of possible options. Before problems occur you can create potential forms of restitution that your staff can put into place as needed, allowing them to judge a situation and take steps that they deem appropriate. All of the ideas above could be assembled into a prioritized procedure. The theater tickets — possibly the least expensive form of restitution — could be used to deal with simple problems, while the shopping option would be applied in only the most difficult situations.
The Wrong Way To Say I’m Sorry
The worst kind of restitution is one that requires the customer to do something — especially if that something is another purchase. Really? You’re going to make the customer spend more money in order to receive restitution for the mistake you already made? That sort of policy is evidence of rampant self-interest, and brands your company as inconsiderate and selfish.
This isn’t a chance to make a profit, it’s a chance to prevent future losses. The $20 you spend now may help you avoid losing $100 in coming weeks. The $200 of goodwill you create could net you an additional $1000 in future revenue. Of course this is all a gamble, but it’s often a bet worth making.
We will never know what the real, bottom-line effects of a negative review will be. We can never calculate how many conversations an unsatisfied customer will have with his friends. It’s impossible to predict how an angry customer will lash out. This is why restitution is such an important part of the three-part apology process — it is valuable, inexpensive insurance.
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