When Things Go Wrong – Lessons in Customer Support

When Things Go Wrong – Lessons in Customer Support
We all like to think that our business has a great relationship with our customers. We value our customers and they know it. We strive to do our best, own up when we don't achieve what we set out to do and be honest with our customers so they feel they are valued and received good service. But sometimes things happen. If for any reason someone in your organization has managed to alienate a customer or potential customer, do you know what to do to handle the situation correctly? The right tone in a letter can make the difference. Research has shown that when a complaint is resolved in the customer's favor, 70% of them will return as a customer. Even if you don't bring them back to the fold, you may convince them to not bad mouth your business across the web. But first, you need to know what should and shouldn't be in that all important letter.

Always Apologize First
You letter should start and end with an apology. It is the least you can say, and it should make it clear that you take responsibility for the matter. Here is an example of what JetBlue had to say recently in a letter regarding a major service mishap:

"Last week was the worst operational week in JetBlues seven year history...Words cannot express how truly sorry we are."

Always begin with that apology and the rest of the letter will be much easier to write.

Empathize and Acknowledge Their Pain
You must acknowledge that whatever else, your customer has been put in a bad situation. This is vital to the possibility of re-establishing a rapport with this customer. The first step to rebuilding the trust you have lost is to acknowledge the situation you have put that customer in. Something along the lines of

"I realize how frustrating it must have been to not have our software work for you as you intended."

Always keep in mind that you want to express an ability to understand and appreciate that this incident has caused problems for them that you intend to fix.

Give the Customer an Explanation of What Happened
This is often overlooked. When you take the time to explain to the customer where things went wrong, instead of just throwing your hands in the air mentally, they will begin down the path to trusting you again. It can be as simple as saying,

"Thank you for advising us about (xx). Customers who let us know when things aren't right are always appreciated. Here is what we think went wrong...

When a customer sees that you have taken the time to find out what went wrong, they will see that you are actually listening to them.

Solve the Problem
If you can, you should propose what can be done to solve the problem immediately. If it will take a number of steps, explain each step to the customer so that they know what they should expect and what will happen next. It can be as simple as offering to replace software that didn't work with one that will or perhaps offering to not only resolve the problem but offer an incentive to return such as a discount for the next time they use your service.

Thank Them for Their Business and Invite Them Back
Always end your letter on a positive note. Thank them for their patience or end with an apology that turns into an invitation to continue the relationship. Here is the end of the letter from JetBlue that we referenced earlier:

"You deserved better – a lot better – from us last week and we let you down. Nothing is more important than regaining your trust and all of us here hope you will give us the opportunity once again to welcome you on-board..."

Admitting it was your fault and then opening the door for them to return is always the best policy. Ending with this means it is the last thing they remember from the letter and will have the most lasting impression on them.

Plan Ahead
Things happen in any business that we can't foresee or control. That is why you should have a written guide for handling all complaints, of any nature. When you plan ahead on how to respond it will save you from sending out an embarrassing letter that responds emotionally to an already difficult situation. Follow these five steps and you will find you just may be able to save that vital relationship with a valued customer when the next complaint hits your desk.