Customer service: the importance of saying sorry

When a company makes mistakes, all it can take is a 'sorry' to start putting it right. Ryan Jackson of Gemini Parking Solutions shares his view on why small businesses shouldn't be afraid to apologise.

In my opinion, saying sorry is one of the most crucial factors in delivering exceptional customer service.

As small as this action is, it has an everlasting effect on your clients. This slight change in perspective will build the trust necessary to forge long-lasting relationships with your clients.

The most common but fatal error made by most SMEs – and some larger brands – is simply not accepting accountability. With anything in life, mistakes do happen. Nothing is 100 per cent fool-proof.

The focus of any business should be to build your infrastructure, processes and procedures soundly enough to eliminate the possibility of mistakes; but inevitably, if you’re reliant on technology or human intervention, there is always some exposure to risk and a chance that errors will occur.

Frustrating

As a customer, nothing makes me more frustrated than dealing with a company that’s totally unaware of the concept of accountability. From a customer’s perspective, no one wants to experience a disruption in their service or non-delivery. But when these things happen, for many service providers, Elton John hit the nail on the head: sorry does seem to be the hardest word.

For me, when a company takes responsibility for their actions of neglect or error, that’s when we can begin to move on. But companies often give no acknowledgement of their error, simply brushing it under the carpet, offering only the excuse that ‘these things happen’.

When a business doesn’t take account of its actions, dismissing any issues, it buries its head in the sand. A more appropriate approach is to investigate the matter, recognise the learning, and put the necessary measures in place to ensure that the error never occurs again.

More often than not, businesses tend to blame third parties and sometimes even point the finger at the customer. This can’t happen! If you are serious about your businesses success, you can’t afford to adopt this attitude towards your customers.

If you build a brand without accountability, delivering empty promises, or making excuses for your inability to deliver or for your unsatisfactory service, there are consequences.

How do we solve the problem?

Within the business, build a no-blame culture, in which you grant your staff the independence and freedom to make mistakes without being chastised or penalised. There must be a learning outcome from any error or shortfall in service.

It’s not about coming down hard on employees when mistakes become apparent. It’s about asking, ‘How do we learn from this and use it to raise every individual higher?’

Embrace accountability within all levels of the business. Whether you’re a customer service representative, a senior manager or the cleaner, there should be a culture of acceptance of responsibility. Encourage staff to feel personally accountable for services, as part of the values and culture within the company.

Build a company in which employees take ownership –  not just of their own work, or department, but of every aspect of the business as a whole – irrespective of it being within their personal control or not. If standards slip, apologise without question, blame or excuse. In adopting this way of thinking, you fast-track your way to regaining your customer’s trust.

For excellent customer service in your business, commit to doing whatever it takes to resolve a service issue, even if it means going above and beyond normal expectations. Within the company culture, reinforce the belief that an unsatisfied customer is a problem for everybody in the company – not just for those within customer services.

Don’t allow staff to redirect complaints to someone else; encourage collective responsibility and proactivity. Encourage them to do what is necessary to get the problem resolved. Let’s move to the point at which any representative of the business in direct communication with an unsatisfied customer accepts responsibility and ensures that the customer’s problem is resolved in the most effective way possible.

Most UK businesses do not accept responsibility or take ownership. Many are ineffectual in dealing with customer issues and complaints – some even set targets to reduce call times and scripts designed to rush customers off the phone as soon as possible.

Considering the resources at their disposal and often huge profits, the result of not valuing the customer experience will eventually lead to their demise.

Ryan Jackson is the founder and CEO of Gemini Parking Solutions, a car park management company.

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Customer Service

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