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Here’s the bad news: a angry customer blows in your neck or tears at you on the phone, shoots daggers at you through email. Worst-case scenario, they threaten you with the words every business owner dreads: “I will never use you again, and I tell everyone I know not to use you too.”
So, is there any good news about this storyline as well? Surprisingly, there are! The heavily tested psychological principle called the “Service Recovery Paradox“demonstrated that an initially unhappy customer, for whom you then fix things, is more likely to become a lifelong loyalist and advocate for your business.
That’s right: one of those desirable customers who not only do business with you, but are interested in telling all their friends about you positively!
Why would that be? Well, now the customer knows you’re more than a fair-weather friend, and they can count on you even when the going gets tough. You have now both had a stimulating and shared experience together: your hearts beat together and you both feel the relief of having passed on to the other side.
How do you satisfy a dissatisfied customer?
Now that you know the potential benefits of turning a customer around, here are the four elements involved in successful service recovery.
- Start screening future employees based on personality strengths that make them well suited to this job (as far as possible, given your organizational constraints).
- Regardless of the psychological makeup of your current employees, start offering customer service training in “situational empathy,“the ability to put oneself in the shoes of another person (in this case, a customer).
- Embrace and Adopt a Service Recovery Framework. Decide, train and rehearse a specific service recovery framework. The particular framework you choose (a few are circulating there, some of them company-specific) isn’t as important as your commitment to adopting it company-wide, up to you train on it and repeat it before the next upset customer shows up with all the negative energy that this situation can bring.
If you don’t already have a service recovery framework, let me offer mine.
The service recovery framework that I recommend to my clients is called “the MAMA method”, and it is mine, although it owes much to the pioneering work of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company in recovery.
The MAMA method of service recovery
- Mtake the time to listen.
- Aacknowledge and, where appropriate, apologize.
- (have a) Mmeeting of minds.
- Act! And followed.
Here it is in more detail:
M: Take the time to listen
- Immediately stop what you are doing.
- Do not interrupt the customer with questions or explanations.
- Only then will you strive to find out more about the situation by probing what specifically bothers the customer.
A: Acknowledge and, if appropriate, apologize. Acknowledge the situation and, if you feel the customer thinks it’s necessary, sincerely apologize. (Note: Every client is different! Not all clients want an apology, and some are uncomfortable. This is something you will learn to feel with practice.)
M: (to have a) meeting of minds. This is the stage where you strive to marry what the client wants and what you can realistically accomplish for them, given your organizational constraints and realities.
A: Act! And followed. Take care of the issue as promised in the previous “Meeting of Minds” step. If you end up delegating some of the service resolution, follow up with those you assigned to make sure it was handled appropriately and completely. For organizational growth, also document what went wrong so that models of failure and their causes can be addressed systematically later.
Important Warning and Disclaimer: This service restoration sequence and approach is not intended to guide you if you encounter someone with a weapon or threatening to use violence. Dealing with this situation is a different discipline, usually referred to as “de-escalation training”; that’s not what I’m talking about here and it’s outside my professional expertise.
Why did I choose “MAMA” as my name and mnemonic? The general idea of the MAMA method is that you should treat disgruntled customers like a caring mother or father! – would treat a child with a trivial injury rather than as a “just the facts, ma’am” litigant would.
A caring parent would acknowledge the child’s feelings rather than try to minimize them; This, as parents know, is the fastest way to get their child to dry their tears and get back to playing. If, on the contrary, they ignore the feelings of the child, the crying will intensify, because the child must prove to the parent that he is hurt.
With customers, you’re not there to prove they weren’t hurt or wrong. On the contrary, you are here to comfort them and listen to them tell their story without interruption. By being sure you do, you’ll hear your client open up and tell you what they’re looking for as a solution, giving you a chance to modify that in light of what can realistically be accomplished given your resources and organizational realities.