Nobody likes disappointing a customer and jeopardizing a strong customer relationship. But when you mess up – how you mend the relationship is key to succeeding in any customer-facing role.
Rather than turn away when things get tough, you need to properly mend the relationship.
And most importantly – if executed correctly, your relationship can come out even stronger.
So, how do you not only salvage but also improve a damaged customer relationship?
1. Assess what went wrong
Where did things go wrong? You can’t repair the relationship until you understand this.
Tim Peek, a corporate coach and strategy consultant, advises that before anything else – view mistakes as learning opportunties: “take a deep breath, step back, and ask what’s to be learned from the situation.”
The real damage is revealed by having a tough conversation with the other party, and those conversations are equally tough to start. It might be easier, however, if you look at the conversation as a sort of “reset” button.
Re-start the process by listening.
To mend the relationship, try listening more than you speak. This will show you care to hear what they have to say.
The next step is to recognize what went wrong by determining the real problem.
2. Determine the real problem
Asking questions helps clarify what your customers perceive as the real problem, which may vary from what you think might be the real problem.
Peek states: “Conversations are as much about emotion as they are about factual content.”
When you’ve humbled yourself enough to be able to ask tough questions and listen to the customer, pay close attention to his or her emotional responses.
How did they feel about the mistake? When you can get on an emotional level with your customer after a problem, you’re both coming from a place of vulnerability. It’s there that you can work to build an even stronger relationship.
But what kind of questions will lead you to those emotional responses?
Ask open-ended questions. This will allow you to uncover the problem by getting them to talk and express themselves.
3. Recognize and rephrase
The next step is to recognize what went wrong and communicate that to your customer. You can do this by rephrasing what they had said to show that you were listening.
Engage in empathetic listening. Different than active listening, empathetic listening involves putting the sole focus on the other person.
Mark Murphy, the founder of Leadership IQ, recommends if you want to truly be an empathetic listener, “get rid of any phrases from your lexicon that begin with ‘I’. This includes ‘I find’, ‘I do’, ‘I like to’, and ‘I always’. Each of those phrases takes the focus away from the speaker and puts it onto us.”
Using certain ‘I’ phrases while communicating indicates two things.
First, it implies that what the speaker just said didn’t hold your attention so you’re just going to talk about yourself instead. Second, it implies that you’ve already got their problem figured out for them.
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4. Engage superiors if necessary
A helping hand from a manager can help in certain situations.
If you’re completely at fault, it’s your responsibility to fix your own mistakes.
But sometimes going to a manager can bring value in instances where the situation involves other areas of the company that are out of your control.
A manager can play liaison between the client and the specific departments. And fully understanding what went wrong can help you articulate the issue.
5. Rebuild the trust by formulating a plan
Damaged customer relationships mean damages to the trust that had been previously built.
The best way to think about it is to start from the beginning again.
What are their expectations going forward?
A tip is to ensure your customer that you’re working on improving certain processes in your company that led to the issue. As your relationship progresses, ask them for feedback to ensure they’re happy.
Create a plan – going forward, how are you going to approach this customer? Show them an actionable plan as to how things will be different or that the right processes are in place to prevent the issue from happening again.
6. Recognize that the repair won’t happen overnight
You can’t mend the relationship overnight.
That being said, make sure to always follow-up.
Ensure they’re happy even if you know things are running smoothly, reaching out gives them that extra clarification that you care.
Conclusion: Looking forward
Our final tip: the next time something heads south, stop and ask: What can I learn here?
Take all mistakes as learning experiences.
With an open mind, strategic questions and a willingness to accept responsibility, you will be well on your way to building an even stronger relationship with your customers than ever before.