How’s Your Mistake Process Management?

Perfection is elusive, if not impossible to achieve. Businesses are made up of people, and people are imperfect. They make mistakes — mistakes involving internal operations and mistakes that affect customers.

How many have planned for those inevitable instances when people prove fallible? Not many. We don’t like to envision ourselves as vulnerable to making mistakes, and so businesses build processes based on the notion that everything will function according to plan.

That’s why business responses to mistakes are so variable in their effectiveness, Those responses aren’t based on best practices or set processes but on ad hoc responses by sales and support staff. They can be good or they can be bad — sometimes, really bad.

Those one-off responses can be effective — and even the most effective ways of dealing with mistakes if your staff is stellar and attuned to the customers. If they’re inexperienced — or poorly chosen — your attempts at damage control can do further damage to your customer relationships.

It’s critical that your customer-facing employees know the importance of dealing with mistakes; they may need to be dealt with intermittently and at annoying times, but how they’re dealt with can either cement a relationship or undo the earlier efforts of your sales, marketing and support teams and result in a serious fiscal hit to your business.

While formulating strategies to deal with mistakes and upset customers, here are four things to keep in mind.

1. Even if it’s the customer’s fault, it’s not the customer’s fault.

The source of a problem really isn’t concern for a customer when they call to complain — they want resolution. That’s true whether the problem’s root lies with your business or with the customer. When fielding a complaint, the proper approach does not involve explaining how the customer is the one who screwed up. That’s guaranteed to exacerbate the problem and can lead directly to the customer’s departure.

Instead, collaborate with the customer on finding a solution — and when you get to the root of the problem, take responsibility yourself. Perhaps you need to be clearer with policies; maybe you could have sent a reminder about something. There’s always a way to tilt the discussion so that the customer is not cast as the cause of the problem. Apologize — even if you think your customer is in the wrong.

2. Respond rapidly, graciously and generously.

Once you’ve started engaging the customer about a problem, start looking for a solution quickly. In a B2B scenario, that’s what your customer expects, anyway. Be big about it. If your company has made the error, make sure the apology is heartfelt and that it’s backed up with a token of your sincere regret and your appreciation for that customer.

That might take the form of a discount or a free month of service in a subscription setting, or some other make-up gift. Remember that the issue you’re trying to address is a business-related one; a gift that helps with the customer’s business will have a bigger impact than something fun but frivolous.

3. Make sure the mistake and the response get into the customer record.

Here’s where a lot of these ad hoc efforts fall down: they don’t make it into the customer record in your CRM system. Then you’re blind to a history of errors with any given customer, and you’re also blind to make-up efforts that may have worked in the past.

Having a record of activities — positive and negative — will help your sales and marketing staff. Approaching a customer about an upsell opportunity can be delayed if you just made things right following an error on your part.

Similarly, you can take extra efforts when you receive a call about a mistake that repeats one a customer was subjected to in the past.

4. Have a process to make sure that particular mistake doesn’t happen again.

If the problem was the result of something your company did, it behooves you to track down the source and solve it before it happens again to other customers.

In a way, a customer complaint is a useful warning signal to your company — it can help you minimize the damage and keep all your customers happy. However, that won’t happen unless you use the data you collect about that problem to take action on it.

CRM Buyer columnist Chris Bucholtz is a speaker, writer and consultant on topics surrounding buyer-seller relationships. He has been a technology journalist for 17 years and has immersed himself in the world of CRM since 2006. When he's not wearing his business and technology geek hat, he's wearing his airplane geek hat; he's written three books on World War II aviation.

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