You’re a growing company – and like it or not, you’ve got a few kinks to work out. Inevitably, you are going to make a mistake, or two – or frankly, a lot!
But that’s ok! Making a mistake is expected – and to most consumers, its even acceptable. That is, if you can learn how to appropriately deal with your startups shortcomings.
You see, we expect businesses to mess up – especially in the early stages. After all, companies are run by humans! Every once in a while, we can handle a lengthy customer service call, a delayed delivery, or even an inoperable product. We might get upset at first – but in the end we are are willing and able to forgive your shortcomings.
Well, that is as long as you are willing to acknowledge them, apologize for them and fix them. It really doesn’t get any simpler than that. So why do so many companies fail at getting this right?
Is “I’m Sorry” a Dirty Phrase?
Let me tell you a little story.
Last year during tax season, I asked my CPA to file an extension pending a decision about opening a new retirement account. Our tax return was completed, but our intentions were to postpone filing the return until we had made our final decision.
This was clearly communicated via email, phone calls, and the fact that we paid an invoice with a line item titled “Extension Filing”.
A few days after paying the invoice, I received a confirmation that our return had been filed with the IRS. I was confused, so I called my CPA.
“I thought we were filing an extension?” I asked.
I was expecting a simple apology for the confusion – perhaps he made a mistake. No big deal. It happens. I was ready to forgive him and move on.
But instead, I received a long list of accusatory excuses.
The CPA claimed that I had mis-communicated and that I didn’t make it clear that I wanted an extension, even though I had emails and a paid invoice that showed otherwise.
When I pointed out those facts, he still didn’t apologize for his mistake. Instead, he concluded that if I had completed his “client form”, then all of these issues would have been avoided.
So when I replied “I did complete your client form, and I uploaded it to your client server as instructed on such-n-such date,” he was silent on the other end of the phone for a few moments. But he still didn’t apologize!
Instead he waited, and then replied, “Ok. I will refund your money, and I understand if you choose to do business elsewhere.”
Wait…WHAT? You would prefer that I take my business elsewhere instead of saying two simple words: “I’m sorry.”?
Is that a trashy phrase? Will your mom wash your mouth out with soap if you use them? Why cant you just say them – because that is all I really want to hear?
A Simple Apology is Worth More than 1,000 Refunds
Giving a customer a refund is a nice gesture, but that is not what a consumer really wants. We WANT an apology! We want to know that you understand our frustration – and we want to hear you take responsibility for it. Its makes us feel better – and it allows us to trust you more.
Apologies are so much more than just good manners. An apology demonstrates to the customer that you are empathetic toward their feelings – and it validates what they’re feeling in that moment, which is ultimately frustration and a lack of trust in your company.
This is not the time for excuses. Instead, an apology is an opportunity to build a stronger relationship with your customer and prove to them that you can be trusted. If you do this right, you can take a bad situation and turn it into a positive customer experience.
There’s nothing shameful about saying “I’m sorry”. In fact, it shows you are strong, responsible and worthy of a continued business relationship.
So get rid of your ego, own up, and say you’re sorry. Its good for your business – and its good for your customer.
To a customer, it feels good to hear the words “I’m sorry”. As we learned , it’s not only good manners to say “I’m Sorry”, but its also good for your business and customers.
But sometimes, these two words alone are not enough to solve the problem. As a business – and especially as a startup – you have to be willing to offer a real solution to your customers complaints.
Let me give you a fun example.
When Food Poisoning Inspires Customer Loyalty
A few years ago while living in Costa Rica, I took a bunch of friends with me to a restaurant that I liked to visit often. They had fresh, healthy food at an affordable price and a fun atmosphere. I really enjoyed going there.
On that day, I ordered the Mahi-Mahi dish – my all-time favorite. But when I took the first bite, I immediate knew something was different.
I felt sick to my stomach. Oddly, the roof of my mouth started to itch, and I felt hot and nauseous. I stopped eating, and figured there was some weird spice on the food that I didn’t like.
As time passed I felt worse, and I eventually went home to lay down. In just a few short minutes, I literally felt like I was going to die. I was in so much pain.
About a half hour later, I heard a knock at my door. A friend was there to tell me that two others were sick just like me – and they both ate the Mahi-Mahi, too.
My healthy friend went to tell the restaurant owner about our condition. At first he denied that our sickness was caused by his food, but once he heard the whole story he quickly jumped in his truck, picked all three of us up from our homes and took us to the doctor for treatment. He stayed with us to make sure we were okay, and when it was all over, he paid the bill.
The next day he stopped by to check on us, and to tell us he took care of the problem. As it turned out, the fisherman didnt keep the Mahi-Mahi cold enough during transport, so he switched vendors that same day – and he promised that it would never happen again.
And guess what? I went back to that same restaurant a few weeks later, I took more friends with me – and I ordered the Mahi-Mahi.
It sounds crazy, right? Why would I ever eat there again? After all, we were poisoned. Some of us literally puked our guts out, and others, well, you know, we…
Enough potty talk – lets be serious here.
How in the world did this restaurant owner turn three poisoned patrons into three lifelong, loyal fans?
Well, theres one simple process that he knew how to follow.
Acknowledge. Apologize. Address. Assure. Rinse & Repeat.
This restaurant owner knows how to win over his customers, even when he has made a horrible, horrible mistake. Hes humble enough to admit his guilt, hes strong enough to say “I’m sorry”, hes flexible enough to make a change in his business, and his actions proves that he truly cares about his customers.
That’s how you inspire loyalty in ALL of your customers – even the ones you accidentally poison!
Need to see that process again? Well, here it is broken down into five easy steps:
- Acknowledge your mistake. You’ve got to be able to admit that you have done something wrong before you can move on. As we learned in already, own up and…
- Apologize. Say youre sorry for what you have done – and mean it. You are truly, truly sorry, and you feel terrible. But that isn’t enough – so don’t forget to….
- Address the problem. Saying that you are sorry doesn’t help me while I’m puking my guts out. It might make me feel better, but…nah, I take that back. I doesn’t make me feel any better. In fact, I still feel like poop. I need medical attention before I can actually forgive you – so that means you need to address my pain.
How can you apply this scenario to your customers? Well, sometimes, you might need to compensate a customer for their loss by replacing an item, removing a charge, offering a discount on a future purchase, or giving away some free merchandise. Other times, you might need to switch vendors, or change your entire business model. Once you’ve got this step figured out, contact your customer to…
- Assure them that you’ve resolved the issue. Follow up with them. Make sure everything has worked out well on their end. Even if you cant promise that the same mistake will never happen again, at least promise that you will always be there to take care of them.
- Rinse & Repeat. Do this for every customer, every mistake, every time!
This is how you create loyal customers who love your brand and support your growing startup – now and in the future.