Every business, regardless of their size, and regardless of how thorough their internal quality controls systems are, will occasionally fall short of a customer’s expectations. This can be due to an error, misunderstanding, malfunction in the production process, or any other number of reasons. Whenever a failure occurs, no matter how large or small, the manner in which you respond determines whether you will lose a good customer, or gain their loyalty for years to come. Don’t gauge the level of importance based on the size of the purchase: a problem unresolved is a negative experience for your customer, despite the monetary value involved. If you can’t resolve a $25 problem in an equitable manner, then your customer certainly will not be able to trust you with their $2500 (or larger) order. Instead they will take their business elsewhere.
When you recognize that a problem has occurred, go to the customer as soon as possible. Your prompt response will communicate to them that you care. It’s critical that you remedy the issue to their satisfaction, and the best way is with an “in-person” follow-up, as it gives you the opportunity to read facial expressions and body language. This will help you ensure that you have indeed satisfied their needs and expectations. If an “in-person” visit is not possible because of time or distance, you should call them on the phone, but it is still imperative that you do so immediately. Since you will not be able to evaluate body language, listen carefully to the tone of their voice to ascertain their level of satisfaction with your resolution.
If you cannot reach them by phone, leave a message asking them to call you. You should follow up with an email letting them know that you left a message to discuss the current issue, but do not attempt to resolve the problem through email. It is difficult, if not impossible, to understand a person’s tone in an email, so it’s equally challenging to ensure that all is okay. Additionally, emails can be viewed as impersonal, and may cause your client to sense a lack of caring on your part. For this reason, be sure to use the email only as a means to following up on a voice message you left, or acquiring a convenient time for you to visit or call, instead of trying to resolve the problem through email.
Once you have met with the customer, if you feel that your client is not satisfied with your response, or being unreasonable with the manner in which they’d like your company to respond, be sure to get your management and quality assurance team involved.
Human nature is such that people tend to shy away from a problem, but if you want to be successful and retain accounts for many years to come, run to the problem. Conflict resolution should always be a top priority whenever a problem occurs with any of your customers. You will be amazed at how strong your relationships will grow by the way you handle problems.