How To REALLY Alienate A Customer

Screw-ups happen.  Sometimes it’s our own goof.  Sometimes it’s someone else’s goof, but we’re the party responsible. Sometimes we just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.   Doesn’t matter.  When the customer is upset or simply has unmet expectations, somebody has to step up and handle the situation.  Somebody has to “make it right,” or at least make a valiant effort to do so.  Like it or not, that person is almost always the sales rep.

Sorry, if what I’m about to say sounds obvious.  It IS obvious.  But not a week goes by that I don’t see or hear about at least one sales “professional” who violates the following obvious principle:

Immediately step up and seize responsibility.

Nothing – I repeat – nothing will alienate a customer faster than a “not my fault” attitude.  A “not my responsibility” attitude is just as bad.  A “there’s nothing I can do” attitude, with or without the other two bone-headed reactions is a surefire method for permanently alienating the customer.

The opposite response, on the other hand, will at a minimum defuse the situation and might even improve your standing.  Here’s an example.  My brother flew into town yesterday and we decided to hit my local Mexican food joint for dinner.  It’s a hole-in-the-wall sort of place.  Nothing fancy, but pretty good food at a good price.  We’re just about finished, when I hear this “Ughhh…,” and watch my brother pull a small handful of staples out of his mouth.  Staples!  Yikes!  OK, pretty gross and we were both more than bit upset about it.

In the next instant, the geeky teenager waiting on our table is standing there open-mouthed and bug-eyed, stammering “Oh my gosh, are you all right?  Is there anything you need?  Let me find out what happened?”  Go back and re-read what this kid just blurted out and how he blurted it.  I’ll wait…  This is a teenager, possibly the most clueless form of life known to man, instantly taking responsibility.

Seconds later, the manager of the place, barely in his 20s, is humbly standing there saying, “I’m so sorry.  Are you all right?  I wish I had done something to keep this from happening to you.  Of course there will be no charge for either of you.  Can I get you a few complimentary desserts?”  By this time, big brother and I are starting to feel a bit sorry for the waiter and his boss.  Their concern, horror even, about what had happened was immediate and genuine.  They both instantly stepped up and assumed responsibility, then began to make amends.

Story not over yet.   A few minutes later, we’re about to walk out the door when the manager taps me on the shoulder.  “It was the packaging the meat came in, he says”.  “We rushed.  We didn’t unwrap it properly.  We’ll reivew this problem at our next two kitchen staff meetings.  I don’t want what happened to you to EVER happen again.”

Unpack that little speech.  It was “we” the kitchen staff who rushed.  It was “we” the kitchen staff who didn’t unwrap the meat properly.  It was not “the new guy” or some other anonymous somebody else, it was very personal to this guy.  He reinforced the fact that it was his responsibility.  No only that, steps were already in place to address the root cause of the issue.

Make a note.  Learn a customer service lesson.  Immediately step up and seize responsibility.

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