When a customer is upset, complaining, or on edge about what they feel is a service lapse on your part, improvisation may not be your friend. Instead, it's best to have a system at the ready for you to use to resolve the situation before the heat of the moment gets to you. If you don't already have a system in use at your company, let me offer you my own five-step customer service recovery framework.
Micah Solomon's AWARE System for Customer Service Recovery
- Immediately stop whatever you're doing.
- Acknowledge the situation and apologize sincerely. Even if you have no reason to think you're at fault, you can—and should—start off by immediately apologizing for the confusion or the situation. Convey that you recognize and regret what your customer has been through.
Note: If the situation calls for a larger apology (by that I mean the customer feels it calls for such an apology, whether or not you think it does), make it a real apology, not a fake "I'm sorry if you feel that way." The key to an effective apology, to getting back on the right foot with your customer, is to convey from the very outset that you are going to take the customer's side and share the customer's viewpoint.
- Don't interrupt with questions or explanations.
- Learn more about the situation by probing for what the customer is specifically upset about; encourage and assist the customer in explaining what's gone wrong from the customer's point of view.
- Widen your viewpoint to be open to the "other side" or a different/unexpected side of the situation: a viewpoint that is not only different than yours, but may be one that you had never thought of in this context before.
- Include your customer in the process of developing a solution that works for them (and is something that is possible for you).
Note: You may, in the course of this widening step, discover that the customer is entirely mistaken in their assumptions about the cause of the situation, but under only a very few circumstances—for example, safety- or security-related misunderstandings—should you flat-out say that the customer is wrong.
- Assure your customer that you take their concerns seriously, and that you will personally and immediately take definitive action.
- Spell out the agreed-on solution to your customer, as you understand it.
- Commit to exactly what you will do to resolve the issue, and by when.
- Take care of the issue as promised.
- Follow up with anyone you assigned it to.
- Follow up with the customer to ensure all is well.
- Document the error in two separate places, both of them important:
- The customer's profile
- Your company's QC (quality control) system.
- Examine the error with an eye toward identifying systemic issues and choke points (for example, repeated complaints of long lines on Tuesdays).
- Strive to learn from the error and, where appropriate, make it a part of staff training and systems.
If you do settle on using my AWARE system, you'll want to socialize it throughout your company, print it out on widely available collateral, and train on or rehearse it before the moment comes when it's needed.