October 25, 2014

Sales and Marketing Advice for Florida business

How to turn bad news into good news and gain a customer for life

Is your company an endangered species? It will be if you don't own up to problems and fix them pronto.

Ron Stein | 9/9/2013

The gentle Manatee is an endangered species and that’s why an opportunity to swim with them is so special. It’s too bad that the owner of the company we booked the snorkel with Manatees tour with didn’t feel the same way.

We all know that eventually something will go wrong with a promise made to a customer. It happens to the best of companies. And most prospects and customers know it happens too.

The measure of a great company is how issues are handled and resolved.

Sit down and grab a cold drink. I have a story to tell you about a business that is an endangered species.

My wife found a discounted gift certificate to snorkel with Manatees through one of those deal of the day websites -- let’s call it “Deals Aplenty” to protect the innocent.

The tour operator was along Florida’s Nature Coast, about an hour and a half north of us, so reservations were a must. We called the snorkel with Manatees place about six weeks before the date we wanted and spoke with the owner, “Captain Jeno”. He asked for the Deals Aplenty certificate number and then emailed us a confirmation with the information needed for the day of our swim.

We were set!

The morning of the big day we arrived at the time given in Captain Jeno’s email. Two other couples showed up shortly after we did. But the door was locked with a sign that said, “We’re on a snorkel with Manatees tour and will back shortly.”

After around an hour of standing outside on a very hot on the sidewalk Captain Jeno’s first mate arrived. Yes, his email had said that because he might be out on a tour, they’d be at the office between 11 am and 11:30. But his assistant showed up at 12:15!

Aargh! But, we were finally inside where it was cool and there was a bathroom too. The first mate said that it’d take five minutes to fire up the computer, so we had to wait some more. No problem, we all decided to take advantage of having a bathroom -- but there was no soap. When I pointed this out she simply said, “I know.”

Aargh! Thank goodness one of us was carrying hand sanitizer.

Now for the big shocker -- Captain Jeno’s first mate said she was ready and my wife gave her our name. She promptly asked for the Deals Aplenty certificate and said, “Oh, we can’t honor this.” What! She proceeded to tell us that somehow Deals Aplenty messed up and was sending payment to another tour operator. The first mate even volunteered that this had happened before with other customers that bought Deals Aplenty certificates.

Aargh! This couldn’t be. The certificate had Captain Jeno’s company’s name, telephone number, and web address on it. And remember, we gave him the Deals Aplenty certificate number six weeks earlier.

I insisted that she call Captain Jeno. His response -- well, if there are no walk-ins by the time they were all ready to head over to the boat, he’d let us go along! Guess he thought he was doing us a big favor.

My response. I turned to the other two couples and said that all of this added up to bad business vibes and I hoped that their snorkel with Manatees tour went better. We left.

Within minutes of getting back in the car my wife called call Captain Jeno’s cell. He proceeded to spend the next ten minutes blaming Deals Aplenty. No apology, no responsibility, no attempt to fix it. Nothing!

Aargh! There’s more, but you have the picture by now. Here’s what you can do when things go bad with a customer to turn them into raving fans.

Take responsibility, don’t make excuses. Start with a sincere apology, even before you have all of the facts. This is often overlooked and can make a big difference in the conversation that’s about to follow. It’s the very first step in taking ownership of the situation. Never launch into a blame game, just listen and ask non-accusing questions when you’re just getting up to speed on what’s going on. If someone else in your company or an outside partner had a hand in creating the problem, it hardly deserves a mention. Your customer simply doesn’t care. You’re in charge and it’s up to you to take responsibility and fix it. Own the problem instead of leaving it on the customer's shoulders. The last thing you want to do is blame the customer!

Turn bad news into good news. Almost any solution you can offer will be greatly appreciated. It could be a discount coupon for a future visit or a free product, but that’s not enough. You must also recognize the inconvenience by giving unhappy customers something extra -- and don’t wait for them to ask. Proactively upgrade them to the next best product or service level. But, never force customers to spend more money. Become a customer champion -- if the problem can’t be fixed at that moment, promise to a speedy resolution. After it’s taken care of, follow up with a phone call or email to once again express your sincere apology and thanks for allowing you to make them happy. Do all of this and you’ll transform an upset customer into an advocate and a positive online review.

Bad news gets worse with age. Get out in front of issues before they become real problems. If you know there’s something bad lurking out there, let the customer know before it happens. Because Captain Jeno was aware that there were previous problems with Deals Aplenty certificates, imagine what the out come would have been if he had taken the time to determine that the Half-Off-Deals certificate we had was “bad” six weeks earlier. That would have been nice to do well before we drove up the night before to stay in a hotel and then sweated for an hour in front of his office. It would have been so easy for him to call and tell us how he was going to take care of it. Now the only thing Captain Jeno managed to do was get several online reviews from my wife that are not very flattering.

You know it’s just not possible for everything to go as you’d like with your products or services. Get past it by owning up to your problems and fixing them pronto. When things go bad be proactive. Apologize. Don’t offer excuses, just solutions that give a little extra.


Ron Stein is President of FastPath Marketing (www.marketing-strategies-guide.com). He works with small business owners, helping them to energize their marketing and sell more of their products and services. Ron has developed his own highly successful 7-step approach to winning new customers as a result of his experience as a small business owner, corporate CEO, marketing and business development executive, salesman, and mentor at two nationally recognized business accelerators. Ron offers one-on-one and small group mentoring, conducts seminars, and consults. He can be reached at 727-398-1855 or Ron@FastPathMarketing.com.

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