Volume 7 Number 9 | September 2017
This is a column for both you and your clients. It’s about the acceptance or refusal of responsibility.
Recently, I had a horrible experience with a major bank where I’m not an insignificant client. I wrote to the president and demanded his personal attention. His team scheduled a call and his two top lieutenants met with me in New York when I was in town.
At the meeting, they immediately said, “We apologize, we blew it, let’s talk about what we can do for you now.” On the phone call with the president he started with, “I apologize on behalf of the entire bank, our people, and myself. We were wrong. Tell me how I can help.”
As my wife commented when I told her, “That was a good response.”
Easier than it looks
The lawyers will often tell you never to apologize because you’re acknowledging some kind or admission of guilt. But they’re lawyers, who would also advise you to never open the doors or turn the lights on because only bad things can happen if you’re open for business but, if you don’t open, you’re safer.
However, most people simply want their story heard. They sometimes want a refund or a replacement, but they usually just want to be convinced they’ve been heard and acknowledged, which is most directly done with an apology.
Your clients should stop telling their service people and call center personnel to use dumb “Service 101” language such as, “I know how you must feel,” or, “That must be terribly frustrating.” That language is merely condescending and makes matters worse. Instead, company representatives should be saying, “On behalf of the company, I want to apologize for your inconvenience.”
And that's what you should be saying if needed, as well: “I’m sorry the focus groups weren’t well accepted, it was my fault for assuming people would participate without more advance guidance.”
The magic offer
Once you’ve apologized, you can make what I call the “magic offer”: “What will make you happy?” You can’t offer that before the apology, because there will be skepticism. But after you’ve apologized, this is a major pivot point toward restoring the relationship. Another way to ask is, “What can I do for you at this point to make things right for you?”
Of course, your client’s people have to have the empowerment to grant what’s needed (and you have to be prepared to refund fees if requested) but what usually happens is the customer asks for less than you would have offered without the question!
You read that correctly, most people just want to be heard and feel that they’ve been listened to and treated with respect. You may need to provide a replacement or repeat experience, but usually not much more.
However, if your customers are not heeded, must endure lengthy wait times to hear back, or are repeated faced with poor service or products, they will be “out for blood.”
Hence, stanch the bleeding immediately with an apology and open offer. Think about it. Wouldn’t you rather be treated that way yourself?
I’m still with that bank….
© Alan Weiss 2017
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