Whoops … Holding on to a Client After You’ve Made a Mistake

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Hang on to your clients! That’s a fundamental rule in business. You invest a great deal of time and money attracting clients and keeping them, but what do you do when something goes wrong? Every business is run by human beings – who occasionally make mistakes. You might deliver the wrong items at the wrong time or color a client’s hair purple when she wanted to go blond.

Fred Reicheld, a well-known management consultant specializing in customer loyalty, has found that every five years, American corporations lose about 50% of their customers. Is it the “whoops!” factor? How can you avoid becoming part of this statistic? First and foremost, admit your mistakes and resolve them to your client’s satisfaction; this develops an atmosphere of trust that will keep your customers coming back.

Keep in Touch

Keep your finger on the pulse of your operation so you know whether or not your clients are happy. Every customer complaint, reduced or canceled order or any other indication of trouble (like the classic expression of dissatisfaction, leaving a penny tip in a restaurant) should be treated as a “red alert.”

Not every client who’s received less than optimal results from your company will speak to you about it directly. For example, when Susan, owner of a small real estate agency, posted a routine advertisement for her business on a community e-bulletin board, she reports: “I was shocked to receive an anonymous comment from a disgruntled former customer, who warned people away.” Fortunately Susan was able to contact him via email. It turned out that Client X had called her agency in the past, wanting information about selling a property. Somehow he was lost in the shuffle and no one ever got back to him. Susan assured him of her personal attention and made sure she revamped her customer intake system.

Invite Feedback

“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” That’s from Bill Gates, who knows a thing or two about running a successful business. Get feedback however possible. Depending on the size and nature of your operation, you can speak with clients personally on a regular basis, post a suggestion box on the wall or send out customer surveys.

Acknowledge When You’re Wrong

When you or your employees make a mistake, it’s important to acknowledge it right away. Encourage your staff to be open with you when they go wrong, so you’ll be prepared to deal with the results as quickly as possible.

Never try to get yourself off the hook by blaming the situation on one of your colleagues or subordinates. And never, ever argue with an angry customer. Listen attentively, apologize gracefully, then shift the focus from the problem to the solution and giving the client what s/he needs rather than assigning blame. Take advantage of the opportunity to show how diplomatically and efficiently you handle a crisis.

When to Dwell on your Mistakes

Once you have found a satisfactory solution for the immediate predicament, take the time to analyze what went wrong and figure out how to prevent it recurring. You may need to go so far as to change your official procedures or training manuals. Then let your clients know exactly what you have done to improve service for them in the future. After all, they are your business’s most important asset.

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