When a customer calls and has a question, a concern, a complaint, or needs an answer, the first words out of your mouth set the tone for the transaction. And these words lay the foundation for the future of the relationship.
The bad news is: more than 90 percent of the people that respond, either in sales or service, don't give an answer; they give an excuse. The only good news inside that bad news is that 80 percent of the 90 percent is your competition. So all we have to do is fix the 10 percent-which happens to be you.
I went to return a pair of pants that had a hole in the pocket. All I wanted was another pair of pants. On the surface it seems pretty simple. Except for the fact that the store has policies and procedures that precluded me from getting a pair of pants.
Here's the exchange: Did I have a receipt? No. Did I buy them on a credit card? Yes. Did I have the credit card number? Yes. We'll look it up in our central bookkeeping office. Unfortunately, the central bookkeeping office has no record of your purchase.
I said, "Keep the pants. If you ever figure out what to do, here's my card."
Yesterday I got a call from the store's general manager telling me all about how their business operates and why the poor salesclerk could not give me new pants. I told the general manager I wasn't really interested in how the store operated; I was only interested in pants. Could she get me some pants?
She began to tell me about her procedures and I said, "Stop! You have my address, you have my pants. If you can send me a new pair that would be the greatest, if you can't, I totally understand. Just keep them, send me the new pants, and keep my business for the next 20 years."
Three pairs of pants arrived today. I could select the one I wanted and send the other two back. No charge. No papers. No procedures. Just pants.
The sad part of this is that they could have done this from the very beginning, and could have scored WOW on the service meter. But no, they chose to "satisfy" me at the last moment, after almost all hope was gone, in an effort to salvage my business (for the next 20 years).
The moral of this lesson is the same as it is in your business. Every day your customers call with a problem or complaint. The first thing you do is tell the customer why it happened, why it wasn't really your fault, why the computers went down, why the credit department made an error, why your order didn't get shipped, or some other excuse ad nauseam.
REALITY: All the customer wants is friendly, helpful service. And an answer.
It's even worse in sales. Salespeople will make promises, not confirm them in writing, and fail to deliver. The customer has an expectation. The salesperson or the company does not meet the expectation. The customer, somewhere between angry and disappointed, calls the salesperson. Does the salesperson try to recover? Or does the salesperson give an excuse? Answer: excuse-every single time.
MAJOR CLUE: No one is interested in your excuse. Not your customer, not your boss, not your mother, not your teacher, not your children. No one wants to hear your excuse. All they want is friendly, helpful answers.
If you just begin the conversation in response to your customer with my three words, "Oh that's horrible" followed by, "I hate when that happens, but you're in luck because I'm the best person to handle that. Here's what we are going to do..." all would be wonderful.
Should you apologize? Yes, if the situation warrants it, but the customer is one billion times more interested in the solution and the outcome than in the apology. In fact, the apology means nothing if it's not followed with an action or a solution that resolves the situation, completely. And if you want to keep the customer, resolve the situation memorably.
HERE'S THE SECRET: The secret is knowing the difference between offense and defense. In sports it's very clear. In football, they even change players. But in business, it's a lot more subtle. When you're making excuses, or casting off blame, or giving your version of why it wasn't your fault, that's the defensive position. You're defending the fact that you were wrong even though in your mind you thought you were right. In the customer's mind you were wrong, and that's the only mind that matters.
The offensive position is the one that's friendly and helpful. The offensive position is the one that provides the solution and omits the (lame) excuse. The offensive position is the one your customers want you to take every time they call. They called for help. They called for answers. They called for understanding. They called for friendly. They called for a solution.
Nowhere in that set of words do you find "excuse." If you want to build your business, if you want to make more sales, if you want to retain loyal customers, all you have to do is admit your mistakes, harmonize with the customer, figure out how to get them what they want, deliver it, and then take an additional memorable action that proves to them that you're the greatest.
And, if you're worried about how much it will cost you to remedy customers problems and provide real solutions, let me remind you of my customer service adage: It never costs as much to fix the problem as it does to not fix the problem.