Turning a Customer Service “Miss” Into a Win

Much as we wish they didn’t, service misses happen occasionally. No matter how wonderful your staff or how high the ratings at your practice or business are, once in a while a complaint is going to come up. Even the best customer service-focused companies must handle the occasional blunder.

An expertly handled customer or patient complaint is an opportunity to create a great service story and generate positive word-of-mouth for your business. What are the essential elements to handling a service miss so that your patient or customer comes away from it still feeling happy?

An appointment gets entered incorrectly in the scheduling system. A customer is upset and feels slighted by a response to their question. A billing error occurs. These are all situations that even the most service-minded business owner and team encounters every now and then. They also happen, not so surprisingly, for businesses that don’t do a great job training staff and delivering the best experience for those they serve. The key difference between rock star customer service companies and the rest is in how they handle a service miss.

Hear It – Empathize. Be sure your customer or patient feels heard and understood. Listen without interruption. Let them vent. Repeat back their complaint by paraphrasing what you heard. Then tell them you can understand how the situation must have made them feel. Put yourself in their shoes, and speak to them in those terms. It can be as simple as, “I’m sure our mistake must have been frustrating for you. Let’s see how we can make this right or better.”

Own It – Don’t try to assign blame or responsibility elsewhere — even if the mistake is not truly your “fault” or outside were factors involved. No one wants to hear excuses when a service or product problem comes up. And your customer definitely doesn’t want to hear how they might have contributed to the issue — even if they legitimately did.

You’ll find some wonderful examples of simply taking care of the customer’s problem without fuss or finger pointing in a recent CustomerThink article on 5 Companies with Envy-Worthy Customer Experience. One recounted story of owning it is when Nordstrom “quickly replaced rain-sogged boots ruined by a third-party carrier with a brand new pair.”

Fix It – Find a way to make it up to your customer or patient. How can you offset their headache and inconvenience, or simply lessen their frustration? There are so many ways to take the heat out of a patient or customer’s frustration.

A sincere personal note from someone in a leadership role, preferably the business owner, the office manager, doctor, chiropractor, etc. — someone whose name is “on the door.” Depending on the nature and extent of the mistake, a gift card — for a restaurant, spa, coffee shop or simply a general purpose Visa/Master card — can go a long way toward making things right. Have flowers sent. Offer a refund or credit against their account. Your effort and acknowledgement will speak volumes.

For a great illustration of turning a service miss into a customer win, read about how Southwest Airline fixed it with one of their customers in the CustomerThink articlewe mention above. After finding that her luggage had been damaged by mishandling, a Southwest customer marched over to their office expecting long lines and red tape to address her complaint. Instead, she was met with quite a different experience. “What started out as a moment of misery turned into my favorite customer service experience: a moment of magic.”

Giving excellent service to your patients and customers is not a cookie-cutter process. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. And, there is no foolproof way to avoid making a mistake now and then. As much as you strive to give the very best service, the occasional ball-drop will happen. The next time it does though, remember that you can pick the ball up and run it in for a service touchdown. All it takes is patience, ownership and empathy. And a handwritten note, or a token of your appreciation always helps.

With the right approach, you’ll be amazed at how an initially disappointed customer can become your biggest advocate.

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