Sharing Success

Making Service Legendary

In the unfortunate event that a customer becomes unhappy with a company’s product and/or service, how the company chooses to respond can help restore the relationship or end it.

By the way, it doesn’t matter whether the company believes their offerings were perfect. All that matters is whether the customer experienced something they didn’t expect and became dissatisfied as a result.

Most business owners agree that “making things right” with unhappy customers is good business. However, in my experience, simply making unhappy customers “whole” again misses a huge opportunity. That is, if you can go a step further in memorably restoring their faith, you can help transform unhappy customers into some of your strongest supporters!

Let me explain with the following true story:

The other day, my friend Mike said he feels so loyal to a family-owned supermarket company that he has exclusively bought his groceries there for the past eighteen years.

Mike first started shopping there almost thirty years ago. Back then, he liked their friendly clerks, reliably fresh produce, and that the store was clean and well-stocked with his favorite brands.

Simply being a well-run business was not enough by itself to make Mike feel personally connected to the store or its owners.

Mike says that his feelings toward the store changed about twenty

years ago, based on how they handled a potentially negative situation.

At the time, the supermarket had just installed their first debit card readers at the registers. Today, we take this kind of “pay with plastic” convenience for granted. But back then, consumers and clerks were just getting accustomed to this “new” technology

Mike must have been among the first shoppers to try the new card readers. While paying for his groceries, Mike swiped his card several times before the cashier concluded that the reader wasn’t working and asked him to pay by check instead.

Three days letter, Mike received a personal letter from the supermarket’s vice president apologizing for a problem that Mike may not have known about. Due to a glitch, Mike’s checking account had been briefly double-charged for the same transaction. (The debit card was charged and the check was also deposited.)

The VP wanted Mike to know that the error had been discovered and reversed within hours. However, the company was deeply embarrassed by the error.

Had the letter ended there, Mike would probably just have made a mental note to confirm with his bank that the error was indeed reversed.

However, the vice president then added that because the family who owned the company so valued their reputation for integrity, they were enclosing a $40 check. “While we have already returned your money in full, we hope to regain your trust. Please accept this gift as a gesture of our goodwill. It is our sincere hope that you use it to buy your next groceries in our store. But it is yours to spend anywhere you choose.”

The gift was so genuine and unexpected (that is, legendary) that Mike had to read the letter twice before he truly understood its meaning. While most companies claim to value customers and their trust, these owners had literally put money where their mouth was.

As a result, Mike began feeling specially connected to the owners and their store and has enjoyed shopping for groceries there exclusively ever since.

In thinking about Mike’s story, here is what I learned about legendary service.

1) Speed counts. The store’s rapid response demonstrated that they took Mike’s satisfaction seriously and that they understood that customer dissatisfaction gets worse the longer it is left unaddressed.

2) Personal attention and concern. Especially coming from a company leader, the genuine apology made Mike feel respected and appreciated.

3) Something extra “for your trouble.” Returning Mike’s money and explaining the situation helped the supermarket repair a transaction. By going a step further (the unexpected gift), the store helped to strengthen a valuable customer relationship.

How business leaders choose to handle customer service situations is a matter of personal preference. In thinking about the choices, consider the memorable Babe Ruth quote, “Heroes get remembered, but Legends never die.” I suggest that finding ways to make your response feel “legendary” is a golden opportunity to earn long-term customers!