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Turning a Faux Pas into a Loyalty-Building Event

Turning a Faux Pas into a Loyalty-Building Event

Your service doesn’t have to be flawless to create loyal customers, but it does require a certain level of people savvy once there’s been a problem. 

Recently, I needed to print a picture when I was out of town in the mountains on business. On line, I found a 24-hour superstore thirty minutes away, so I called to inquire if they could help me print my picture. An associate named Ashley assured me that the photo department had everything that I needed.

Which turned out to be a flaming lie! But I’m getting ahead of myself…

My trip to the store proved challenging. The GPS assumed I was driving an ATV instead of a sedan, and it selected “roads” made of gravel and dirt instead of blacktop. And the roads curved crazily, carving little slices through and around the mountains and valleys. I couldn’t move faster than coasting speed for fear of hitting a herd of white tail deer. The drive went on endlessly, and by the time I found the store, I had a tension headache.

Walking into the store, I had but one thought in mind: getingetout.

I went directly to the photo department, slipped my thumb drive into a glowing print terminal and touched the screen per the directions. A message popped up saying something like:

THE PHOTO DEPARTMENT is currently closed. Please come back tomorrow.


I. Need. A. Manager! popped into my head and out of my mouth.

Where the %#&%^*@ is Ashley? An associate named Chris informed me that Ashley had just left for the day.

I asked to speak to a manager using the most calm, rational tone I could muster up.

While waiting for the manager, I rehearsed what I would say: “I drove 40 minutes through the mountains to GIVE YOU MONEY. Won’t you please find a way to make the photo department work for me so I can give you my money?”

By the time the manager arrived, a little smoke curled above my head. But come to think about it, I don’t know that the woman I spoke with was a manager or not. I mean, she didn’t say that she was the manager. And she didn’t wear a name tag saying MANAGER.

But what she did took the smoke off my head and got my problem resolved.

What did she do? Long story short, the woman---

  1. Listened to me. She asked me very specific questions, some of them allowing me to vent, and others probing to find out what I wanted done. She didn’t interrupt except to encourage me to continue by nodding her head in understanding. She ended by restating my frustrations AND what I hoped to accomplish: “You drove all the way out here because you want an 8×10 photo print made. Is that right?”
  2. Invested effort. While leading me to the photo department, she told me that she had not worked in the photo department for years, but she would see if she could help. By telling me that up front, she set an appropriate expectation. On the phone, Ashley provided false hope and assurance. This acting-manager did no such thing. Next, she spent nearly 10 minutes trying to find a way to make it work.
  3. Apologized and accepted responsibility. Even while trying to resolve my issue, she accepted responsibility for the situation: “I’m really sorry about this. If I were you, I’d be very frustrated.” Never once did she offer an excuse or deflect responsibility by saying the word “corporate” — as in “We don’t have the codes to the photo department computers after regular hours because Corporate is afraid associates will steal.” When pushed up against a wall, many employees will throw their companies under a bus as a way of demonstrating “It’s not MY fault,” and “I’m just as upset as you are!”
  4. Found another option. Unbeknownst to me, while she worked to find the solution to the problem, she asked associate Chris to call other stores to find an open one that might have a machine that could print the picture for me. Before I left, the woman gave me specific directions to a 24-hour drug store two miles down the road that was open and had a working photo printing machine.

The acting-manager turned around this situation for me. She changed my very negative opinion of Ashley, the store, and the entire chain not because she owned the miracle solution, but because of how she handled the problem. She demonstrated:

  • Empathy and world-class listening skills
  • Personal involvement in my problem
  • Professional accountability for a mistake that wasn’t hers
  • Commitment to getting me what I needed—even when it meant sending me to the competition

Muscle gets strengthened when it meets resistance. Likewise, loyalty gets strengthened when it gets tested. If you are a service leader, teach your employees how to respond when the satisfaction and loyalty of your customer get tested. The acting-manger who helped me did more to restore my perception and loyalty to the store than if I had come in, gotten what I wanted, and left without incident.

Two points I’d like you to ponder.

First, I’ve called this woman the acting-manager. Did she do anything for me that you wouldn’t allow and even expect a frontline employee to do for a customer? If you would expect your frontline employees to act in the same fashion, have you empowered your employees by your processes, policies, and culture to do what this woman did for me?

Second, take a look at your service training. Does it teach your employees to know how to turn today’s service faux pas into tomorrow’s loyalty-building event? If not, you’re leaving money on the table, and your sending your customers to the competition—but maybe permanently.

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Scott Carbonara is a speaker, author, and consultant known as The Leadership Therapist for his diverse background working as an award-winning crisis intervention counselor, followed by chief-of-staff of a multi-billion dollar healthcare company. He is the author of four leadership books including A Manager’s Guide to Employee Engagement (McGraw Hill 2012), and specializes in leadership topics pertaining to employee and customer engagement, and change management.

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