I have had a few run-ins with some customer service departments in the last month that drove me a bit crazy (and one that went QUITE well). There are several indicators that the economy is getting better; one of those being as the economy gets better, customer service gets worse. There is apparently less of a need to deliver service because if I defect, there are others waiting in line to take my spot as a “valued customer.”

Smile because you want to, by Rory MacLeod

I’ve always scratched my head when people talk about how big-box retailers kill small businesses. I disagree. I think it forces small businesses to both innovate and fill the service gap left by those big-box retailers. Small business owners that cannot retool themselves to fill this gap will probably go under, and quickly. But that’s why service is so important.

Every business has to deal with customer service issues at some point in their lifetime. There are too many variables on both sides of the transaction for it not to happen. But because we know this, we build in a bit of tolerance into our transactions—a forgiveness factor. With that said, if you are in customer service, your script only has three steps. Those are:

  1. “I’m sorry that we did not meet your expectations.” Simply saying “I’m sorry” (like you mean it) can have a profound effect on cooling down the situation. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. If your company made the mistake, own up to it. If it is simply an expectation gap, you’ve now apologized for that (whether it is your fault or not).
  2. “What can we do to make it up to you?” Yes, this opens the door up for crazy requests, but this will quickly separate the people who are calling to complain loudly for no substantial reason to get free services from those who could become extreme loyalists if you make it up to them. Own the problem and find a solution. Some folks may skip this step and go right to step three which is just fine if you are well versed in the problem and solution. This step allows the customer to be heard and understood, which often is just as calming as saying “I’m sorry.” It also allows you to ensure you can reset expectations during the resolution.
  3. “Here’s what I’m going to do to make it right.” And then tell them what you are going to do. Delight them. Be unexpected. Take a risk. Bad service experience at a restaurant? Invite her to be part of a focus group for a new menu. Bad cellular service experience? Give him unlimited data for a month. When you delight someone, he will tell his friends about the experience and become an insanely loyal customer. Why? Because he knows that you will take care of him.

Here’s a few things you don’t see in this script:

  • Lack of ownership of the problem.
  • Blaming the problem on someone else.
  • Trying to explain why things are the way they are (nobody cares, they just want the problem fixed).

Here’s an example of where I was delighted this weekend.

High Five Everyone! 56/365, by SashaW

My wife and I met some friends at The Keg Steakhouse & Bar in Las Colinas—a small, mid-market steakhouse chain. We showed up and sat in the bar for burgers (side note, if you have not gone to a prime steakhouse and had a burger and martini at the bar, you are missing out on a damn tasty burger). We ordered drinks, an appetizer, and dinner. The bar service was extremely slow the first time around, but we were chatting and didn’t really mention it. Then my wife’s salad came, but no appetizer. We casually asked the waitress if our appetizer was ready yet and she ran back to see what was happening. For whatever reason, it wasn’t ready. She apologized profusely and asked if we wanted it to come out with the meal. No worries, we said.

Ten minutes later, after all the food was out, the manager of the restaurant came over and again apologized for the oversight. She immediately offered to buy our appetizer ($9) and asked if everything else came out correctly. We didn’t ask for anything free (and wouldn’t have), but she came prepared and just made it right. Like most restaurant managers, she knows that appetizers come out first. Regardless of the issue, it didn’t happen that way so she apologized and combined steps 2 and 3 to make it right. She didn’t say the kitchen was backed up, or that the waitress didn’t enter it in correctly. She simply said it wasn’t right and fixed it. You can bet we will be going back (as well as referring our friends, go check them out!) because we know that we will be taken care of. Contrast this with another restaurant experience where the owner blamed all of the problems on an inept staff, a new menu, and their inability to manage food orders properly. Customers don’t care about any of that unless you are going to pay them to fix it.

If you are in customer service, take the time to delight your customers. If you don’t, a competitor or alternative solution will. It’s simple, just follow the steps above and have your customers telling their friends!

Edit: Check out this great post by Seth Godin that covers the elements of a good apology!

Edit 2: HBR weighs in with advice from Accenture.

This post originally appeared on BrandenWilliams.com.

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