Customer Service Under Pressure: How You Respond When Things Go Wrong


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Excellent customer service is all about managing the experience of each and every customer to maintain high standards of care and delivering efficient, effective responses to each customer’s particular needs. Being prepared for each customer that comes in and keeping up that quality from the beginning is essential. As with any relationship between two parties or individuals, it’s that consistency that lets you inspire trust and loyalty in your customers. They come back because they trust you to deliver the same quality experience again.

But no matter how much you work at maintaining these standards, something is going to go wrong. Maybe a product falls apart, maybe a customer gets hurt or sick, or maybe one of your employees just had a bad day and said something they probably shouldn’t have. For one reason or another, the individual customer experience falls apart. It’s not the end of the world! No one is perfect and most customers will accept that. Every company will have crises like this – what’s important is what you do with it. How you respond in the wake of these mistakes can make or break your relationships with your customers.

Picking Up the Pieces

When something goes wrong with a product or service, the first most important concern should be dealing with the consequences of that error and responsibly trying to do everything reasonably possible to improve the experience and meet the needs of the customer or customers experiencing the failure. If a product fell apart, send them a new one if you can be sure it won’t fall apart again. If they are hurt, you don’t always have to accept fault, as that may lead to legal trouble, but you should be reaching out and doing what you can to make up for any missteps.

Your staff need to be prepared for dealing with events like these. When a customer comes in with a grievance or malfunction, they’re going to be scrutinizing their customer service experience a lot more closely than they were during their initial purchase. A high-quality response in this sort of situation can end up building even more brand loyalty, depending on the severity of the original crisis.

Being able to respond promptly and effectively to a product crisis also depends on the depth of your preparation. If something goes wrong in a product line, you need to know exactly when and how to conduct a proper product recall. Not only do you have legal obligations to report dangerous defects and then comply with recall orders, but customers will be paying close attention to how you manage the recall.

Showing Customers Your Priorities

One recent product recall that has not been handled very effectively is the Takata airbag recall. Automakers discovered a dangerous defect in many of their airbag inflators that could result in lethal exploding airbags, and now it’s become the largest auto recall in U.S. history, if not the largest product safety recall in general. It affects 19 automakers and nearly 70 million airbags. This shocking recall has given consumers a chance to see how these car companies react to the crisis and what priorities they have in responding to it.

Unfortunately, because of slow-moving auto companies and a lack of replacement parts for such a massive number of vehicles, the recall has been shockingly slow. The recall has been going on for more than two years now, although many were aware of the defect for years before that, but by the end of 2017 only 43 percent of recalled inflators had been replaced. At least 19 deaths and 200 injuries have been connected to these airbag defects already, but many customers are still left on the road with these vehicles. Some customers were notified of the recall but then informed they would have to wait another two years for the proper parts.

In a recall of this size, where automakers have to depend on a third-party for the replacement parts, this kind of delay may be inevitable. But leaving your customers with no choice but to continue using a faulty product is indefensible, and may do serious damage to consumer trust in many of these auto brands. Because a recall is inherently a difficult time for a company and may require sacrifices one way or another, it tends to reveal the leadership’s priorities. Consumers can see if the company cares more about their bottom line, avoiding a lawsuit, or serving their customers.


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