Some great customer service tips in the face of adversity. Last week we suffered one of the largest setbacks in our 10 year history in customer relationships. And yet with it came one of the positive experience we have ever had in dealings with our customers and prospects. So much better than we ever expected. High response rates, sales leads and messages of support – all after creating chaos, frustration, anger and severe irritation among our customer base.

Great customer service can be achieved when the chips are down

How so ?

We have been sending out our monthly eflyer to around 2,000 organisations once a month for the last 6 months or so. It is intended to be helpful with sales and customer service tips. Admittedly there are also some sales messages with details of forthcoming courses and links to Associated Learning where audio CDs of some of our training material are sold.

People tell us they like it and it all runs fine. Well at least it did until last Wednesday. During the time scheduled send process in America the server fell over and got caught in a loop. Consequently the same e-mail was e-mailed to each person once a minute for about 1 1/4 hours.  Imagine that, the same blasted e-mail hitting your inbox repeatedly every minute without you being able to stop it. To say customers and prospects got frustrated was an understatement. They couldn’t turn it off either, hitting the unsubscribe button only affects future mailings so that didn’t stop the deluge. People out and about were seeing their Blackberry or PDA clogging up with an e-mail they hadn’t requested, and in some cases batteries were running flat.

I returned to the office on the Wednesday evening to face the fury on the phone messages and by e-mail. 812 incoming e-mails and 25 phone messages as well as 4 or so on my mobile told the story. I sat down, read every e-mail, and wrote a plan. The aim was merely damage limitation at this stage and yet ……..

The outcome has been little short of incredible, and amazingly positive. What have we learned from this exercise and how you can turn a negative into a positive can be summarised in the following. You can benefit in any business by using some of the following principles ;

  1. Devise a plan – Gather together all the major decision-makers in your organisation who can influence the outcome with your customers, adopt a siege mentality and form a plan of how you’re going to deal with the crisis as a team. Divide up responsibilities and commit to keeping communication lines open between all departments. Even schedule crisis meetings for a period of time if this helps. This was relatively easy for us, as we’re a small business.
  2. Be quick – You only have a limited opportunity to run events, otherwise the risk is that they’ll run you. You want to be ahead of the game. It feels much more comfortable to be proactive instead of reactive. Identify which of your customers and prospects poses the greatest threats or aggression.
  3. Be courageous –  Deal with it head on, go straight for the people who are most angry, upset, have the most to lose etc. Deal with them first. Give the the chance to complain, shout etc. You’ll be amazed how many will respect you for doing this. As a result actually  – they don’t shout at you. This was my personal experience. I gave them the chance to lay into us – and they didn’t. Some actually apologised for the tone of their messages or e-mails! How incredible is that?! After what we’d done?!
  4. Honesty – goes a long way and is appreciated and respected. No excuses, no weasly words, no corporate speak. If you or your company fouls up, put your hands up, admit it and it diffuses much of your customers anger or frustration. Actually people are good natured on the whole, and they’re reasonable. They appreciate things go wrong, that humans make mistakes. Be honest, admit your mistake and they have little to shout at you about anymore. Again this was my personal experience.
  5. Take responsibility – this is closely tied in with point 4 about honesty. There’s nobody really to blame once you’ve admitted it is your fault. They don’t have to prove it was your fault. Get the senior man or woman to make the contacts to your customers or prospects. When you’re under fire, a leader leading from the front inspires both customers and internal staff.
  6. Be human – We consciously tried to reinforce the fact that we’re humans and that we wouldn’t have liked to have been on the receiving end of what we did to others. You may be able to use a little humour, but of course it has to be appropriate. In our case we pointed out in e-mails and on the phone that because we are a customer service and sales training consultancy – bombarding all our favourite people with constant emails was about as bad as it could be for us. This irony was noted by many. Particularly as the lead article in our eflyer about customer service was on the subject of efficiency!

What we have learned is that even when things look as bad for your business as they could possibly be in terms of your communications with customers, there is still room to shine, to impress them, and to offer them a level of customer service they weren’t expecting. You can achieve all of these things. Actually though, your customers will be open and are ‘willing’ to let you impress them.

In our case, we appreciate we’re not out of the woods yet, but certainly the whole experience has felt very positive and a lot, lot better than expected.

You can use the same principles to maximum effect. This saga will no doubt be retold many times over during our customer service training courses in Leicester, Northampton, Birmingham, Coventry, Derby, Nottingham, Loughborough, Melton Mowbray, Kenilworth, Stratford on Avon, Warwick, Solihull, Lichfield, Milton Keynes, Kettering, Corby, Wellingborough, Cambridge, St Ives as well as wider parts of the East Midlands, West Midlands, Northamptonshire, Leicestershire, Cambridgeshire, and Warwickshire.