Creating Customers for Life

Jeff Lind

Every company blows it sometimes. No matter how committed we are or how good at customer service we are, things sometimes go wrong. How we handle these problems and mistakes is what it is all about.

How do you convert an unhappy customer to a happy customer?

Life long customers are built by employees who, when they encounter a problem, make an empowered decision to handle the problem on the spot within seconds, apologize, solve the problem and compensate the customer. Saying you’re sorry is NOT enough. Rarely do we see an employee apologize or take responsibility for the problem. The need to save face or to not look bad to their employer is so great that they simply cannot or will not do whatever it takes to make the customer happy. Every employee should be taught skills of empowerment, and that the customer truly does comes first.

Many company owners or managers have problems coming up with powerful service procedures that FORCE employees to give away something of value when things go wrong. Each of us have products and services that have value in our customers’ eyes. Use these products. If you are a florist you can send the customer a dozen roses. However, if you are a dentist, sending the dozen roses will probably cost you about $30.

The cost to the florist is much less.

If a couple with a 7 PM dinner reservation will not be seated until 7:30 the hostess should say, “I apologize but we are not going to be able to seat you until 7:30 PM, can we buy you a round of drinks while you wait?” Most customers say yes. Then they may say, “Wow. This is cool. Hope this happens again.” The cost to the restaurant is small but they have a happy customer who they just took from a negative to a positive for very little out of pocket cost.

What products or services do you have that you can use that do not cost you much but have a high-perceived value? This is not a time to be cheap.

Recently, at a local restaurant, a regular customer came in for a special occasion – and brought with her a large party, which she was hosting. There was no record of the reservation anywhere. The place was packed. There was nowhere to seat this group. The restaurant scrambled to take care of them, but it took time. The GM bought drinks, compt’d desserts, apologized. She did what was in her power. Unfortunately it was not enough. The guest has been embarrassed in front of her guests.

The customer left and said, “I won’t be back.” Many managers would leave it at that. They’d think, “Hey, I did what I could.” That was not what this manager did. She called her Regional Manager and explained the situation, even though it was pointing out her own restaurant’s mistake in the reservation. He called the customer himself, immediately. Again, apologized, took responsibility, and said that a gift certificate was in the mail. The customer said, “Thanks, but no thanks.” Time to give up? Are there some people you just can’t make happy? Maybe. But that wasn’t the way these people thought, so they didn’t stop there.

The Regional Manager went to the Vice President. The Vice President got on the phone to the customer immediately. Guess what? The customer was so amazed by how far this company was willing to go to get them back that they became what all businesses most need and want: A customer for life.

How would this situation have turned out in your place of business?

Tips to remedy customer grievances:

• Listen to the Customer

• Act Quickly

• Take Responsibility

• Be Empowered, and Empower Your Employees

• Compensate

• Go above and beyond expectations

Jeff Lind can be reached at 544-9220 or