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Sales Eye - The great escape (July 19th, 2004)



The great escape

19th July 2004




Everyone screws up. That's a fact of business life. Things go wrong - suppliers let us down, deliveries come late, our employees make mistakes.


Dear Mr. Kowalski


I must regrettably inform you that our company, 'Express Meble,' has had some small problems with your order. We understand how important it was for you to receive your new office furniture in time for your open house event on August 1. However, due to a flood of new orders and unanticipated vacations by our production staff, we won't be able to deliver your furniture until mid-September.


We apologize for any inconvenience, and appreciate your understanding. If you have any questions, please contact my assistant, Pani Bezgłowa, since I will be leaving for a three week holiday several seconds after I hit the 'send' button on this e-mail.


Kind regards

Jarek Mamkac

P.S. Check out our special August deal - buy three office chairs, get the fourth free! Call for details.


Everyone screws up. That's a fact of business life. Things go wrong - suppliers let us down, deliveries come late, our employees make mistakes. Of course, the businesses that go on to become 'great companies' screw up a lot less than the rest of us. But they screw up too. The difference is that great companies know how to handle their customers when the inevitable mistake happens.


The letter above is fiction, but not so far from the truth. For years, we've seen sales reps finding out things have gone wrong with their order and then try to escape from the client. The greatest escape is to bang out an email, explaining and apologizing at the same time - like our buddy Mr. Mamkac above. But trust us when we say there is no better way to lose the client forever than to take this approach.


So the next time you or your company screws up, keep these thoughts in mind:


When the client calls you first. When the client calls with a problem, start by just listening. Let them explain the situation while you listen quietly and take notes. Understand the problem. Ask intelligent questions. Show them that you are sincerely interested in understanding the problem so you can (hopefully) find a solution. Don't make excuses and don't propose a solution before you've done some research of your own - unless, that is, the solution is easy and obvious.


Don't hide behind emails. When things go wrong, the easiest thing to do is pop off an email, like our old friend Jarek above. Emails will never be able to ask questions or to convey your deep regret that something went wrong, nor your sincere interest in making things right. When a problem occurs, don't hide from your responsibilities - get on the phone or, better yet, go visit the client personally. That shows best of all your commitment to solving the problem.


Diagnose the problem. When something goes wrong, analyze and find out why. This will help when you have to explain to the client what happened. In order for the client to return to you as a loyal customer, they will need to be convinced that this was truly an exceptional situation and that your company has the procedures and safeguards in place to ensure that this does not happen again. Indeed, a complete diagnosis will help you and your team to understand what went wrong as well, and thus avoid the problem in the future.


Propose a solution. Or better still, alternative solutions. Your ability to retain your client as a happy loyal customer for years will usually depend on how you solved the problem. An order-gone-wrong rescued will have a long-lasting positive impact on the client. Therefore, getting this right is critical. Now, depending on the value of your services provided, this can get a little tricky. Many clients are extremely demanding, and may expect a solution that can be quite costly. This will require your judgment and negotiating skills. But beware - if solving the problem is relatively low cost, just do the right thing and don't try to negotiate. That will simply leave a bad taste in their mouths.


Involve your 'higher-ups' if necessary. Someone once told us, "I like to negotiate with bosses because they are the only ones empowered to agree to an absolutely unreasonable deal." You may not be authorized to make certain concessions in solving a problem, but your boss most certainly will be. If you are finding the 'cogs' of your organization a bit stubborn in the problem-solving area, then elevate to the boss. Most bosses understand the value of keeping customers happy.


Statistics show that it takes 10 positive experiences to counter one negative one. Handle the problem well, and be rewarded with lasting loyalty. It's often said that the best way to judge a company is how they respond to problems. We too have made mistakes in the past, but thanks to handling the problem professionally and in a fair way, we have built extreme confidence and loyalty among our customers.


As our favorite U.S. President, Ronald Reagan, once declared, "You can run but you can't hide." By facing your customer service problems head on, and not running away, you too will build a loyal base of customers.


Win a Free Gift! We'd like to invite our readers to write to us and ask questions they may be facing in sales and sales management. To the first five readers who write in, we will send an award-winning Lynka T-shirt - just in time for the beach! Write to Sales Brothers at (Lynka family members are not eligible - that means you, Mom!)


From Warsaw Business Journal by John Lynch, Matt Lynch -"The Sales Brothers"