Jo Geraghty


When customer service fails

Date added: 01st Jun 2016
Category: Customer Experience

A culture of good customer service has to include acknowledging mistakes, saying sorry and putting things right

You’re running for a bus and you accidentally bump into someone; what is your first reaction? Hopefully it’s to say sorry and then help them pick up anything that they have dropped.

You’re at a party and unfortunately you break a glass; what is your first reaction? Generally you’d apologise to your host, pick up the pieces before anyone gets injured and then offer to pay for a replacement.

It’s the birthday of a good friend and you suddenly realise that you’ve forgotten to post their card; what do you do? Unless you can hand deliver the card quickly, the chances are you’ll pick up the phone, apologise and then suggest a get together to make up for the lateness of the card.

What do these three scenarios have in common? Apology and restitution! And so they should; good manners and common courtesy demand that when you wrong someone the first thing you do is apologise and then you try and make things right.

Customer service and politeness 

So why is it that there are still some businesses which act as though an apology is something shameful, to be grudgingly offered only when all other avenues have been closed. How, in fact, does any executive team think that process and procedure comes before basic courtesy? Admittedly, there are customers who are going to try it on, who haven’t helped their own cause; but even here surely it can’t hurt to apologise for any misunderstanding. And when it is an open and shut case, when customer instructions have been blatantly ignored why on earth does it take up to eight weeks for a complaint to be investigated before apology or redress can be considered.

Think that’s far-fetched? That’s the approach taken by a leading bank only recently when it failed to act on share sale instructions. At least, that was the approach it finally took, as initially the customer was told that managerial approval had to be sought before the complaint could even be logged.

People make mistakes. More importantly, people accept that other people make mistakes. So why are businesses so reluctant to admit to errors? Yes, sometimes a full investigation is required when events are confused or restitution is complex; but when the error is obviously down to a mistake what is wrong with saying sorry, putting things right and then having an investigation to ensure that the error doesn’t occur again. Approached in that way the customer is left in no doubt that they come first. Approached the other way round, the customer is seen more as a bi-product of the investigation and that benefits no one.

It doesn’t matter what you say on your website, or your brochure, or your annual report. You can have all the ‘customer comes first’ slogans you like plastered around your office. They mean nothing unless you remember the basic principle behind customer service which is to do the best you can for your customers and when things go wrong to move swiftly to apologise and put things right.


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