Question: How do you make good after a service shortfall?

Answers from frontline reps —

An unfortunate truth is that mistakes happen. It is how you react to these hiccups that can make, or break, your business. Reps can resolve upsets in many ways; however, the best reps tend to have recurring elements in their resolution processes.

The first step to mend a potentially broken customer relationship is to actively listen to the customer’s concerns. Next, extend a genuine apology for the inconvenience the situation has caused. Then, focus on the solution and how you’re going to collaborate with the customer to get there. If customers feel connected to the resolution, their buy-in is present, and typically they will be more patient while you attain the desired outcome.

Within our business, if we need additional reinforcement, there is a program our reps can use on a case-by-case basis to credit the member’s account or provide other options to brighten the member’s day after a potentially upsetting interaction.

Megann Wither, Navy Federal Credit Union


Be a good listener. Deep down, most difficult customers understand that occasional mistakes are a normal, unavoidable part of running a business. Customers want more than anything to know that their problems are being taken seriously. A great way to give them this impression is to be a good, attentive listener. Listen calmly and completely to the customer’s problems, keeping your voice and facial expression alert and concerned, even if he or she is acting ridiculously and Do Not Interrupt!

Next. Try these four steps:

  • Apologize. Make sure your tone of voice is sincere. Say that, on behalf the company, you’re sorry the customer wasn’t satisfied, and you want to do whatever you can to help.
  • Satisfy the customer. Ask, “What can I do to fix this that would honestly satisfy you” These words can do wonders to a particularly upset customer.
  • Notify your supervisor. Your supervisor has more authority to “make it right” with the customer. Additionally, it transfers the responsibility of pleasing the customer to someone who’s higher up the chain of command, which customers can find reassuring.
  • End the interaction on a positive note. Even if you addressed the problem exactly as the customer wanted, and he or she is still mad, try not to let him or her leave in a huff. Instead, express gratitude for his or her patience, and promise you’ll do everything possible to make sure the next experience goes smoothly. Try to generate a positive memory with your graciousness and kindness as the customer leaves the call. She or he may tell their friends, “Well they couldn’t help me but at least they were really nice,” or “They really tried to help as best they could.”

Keep in mind that a happy customer means better business. A satisfied customer might spread the word about having good experiences, but an unsatisfied one will almost certainly complain to others, recommending getting their services elsewhere.

Rachel Wilty, UnityPoint Clinic


Depending on the damage that was done to a relationship, there should be some things that can be done to repair it. First off, apologize to the customer for whatever it is that created the damage to the relationship in the first place. However, if the damage wasn’t done intentionally or with malice, most customers can and will be quite forgiving. Customers are just like anyone else in that they expect the truth and to know that you are sincere in wanting their business relationship, as well as that you deserve their business. In order to move forward and repair the damage, try these two ideas:

  • Set realistic expectations. Just because you want to maintain or rebuild a relationship with your customer, doesn’t mean you should promise them the moon and stars. Don’t promise them dates, services, or products that you can’t possibly achieve.
  • Offer an incentive. If possible, how about throwing in a warranty, or an extra discount, or free shipping? There are many ways to make a customer know and feel like you value them and want to re-earn and then keep their business and their loyalty.

Remember, though, when you are repairing the damage, you need to look closely at why the damage was created in the first place. What were the reasons for the issues? That way you can correct them so they don’t reappear down the road.

Jo Sprowl, SKF USA Inc.


Start with an apology, but make it count by knowing what went wrong. Start a conversation with the customer and listen to understand what is needed to resolve the issue. Then re-state the facts to show that you know what is wrong and that you are ready to work on a resolution.

Accept responsibility for the mistakes. There are times when we want to tell the customer about our company’s flaws, guidelines, and rules in answer to their concerns. Try instead to honor what has happened by acknowledging how this has impacted the customer. Then let them know you care how they feel about their experience with your business.

If how your business operates is a contributing factor in the situation, then there are two great opportunities at this point. First offer a specific apology and state a specific strategy to fix mistakes and assure the customer of your commitment. Ask the customer if the proposed fix is acceptable, and to ensure satisfaction with solutions and resolutions, set a specific time to follow-up. Second, let your company know if this situation identified a failure or gap in processes/products that can be repaired to prevent similar problems in the future.

Piper L. Grant, North Virginia Electric Cooperative

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