What’s the Right Thing to Do When the Customer’s Wrong?

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Does the mantra ‘The customer’s always right’  hold true in every situation?

What about when the customer is wrong and the company is quite within their rights to deny the customer’s request?

Should the company still hear the customer out and give them the benefit of the doubt?

Maybe there are extenuating circumstances. Maybe there’s an opportunity to show empathy. And just maybe it’s an opportunity to do what’s right for the customer believing that even though it’s outside the ‘terms and conditions,’ in the bigger picture it’ll be good for business.

Certainly, there will always be some customers who seek to take advantage, working the system for their own benefit. But that doesn’t mean that everyone is a shark. While companies are wise to tighten up on policies to protect themselves from being taken for a ride, they should keep in mind that there’s always an exception to every rule.

If there is an honest mistake, what will it really cost the company to do the right thing? Saving a few pounds in the short term might not be worthwhile if the lifetime value of the customer is lost over the issue. More importantly, how can you empower your advisors to discern when it’s ok to bend the rules and how much leeway should you give them? Let’s consider an example:

A silly but costly mistake:

An online travel company has a strict cancellation policy and customers have to agree to the terms and conditions when booking. But a sleep-deprived new mother gets the dates wrong, booking 2 months instead of 2 weeks. It’s only when the credit card gets billed for four times what she was expecting that she realises her mistake. According to the company’s terms and conditions, there’s no refund even if she just shortens and doesn’t cancel the entire trip. She’s devastated; they can’t afford the expense, let alone lose money they didn’t intend to spend in the first place. The company is quite within its rights, after all, she accepted the terms and conditions when she booked and she didn’t query the confirmation. But is it right, given the circumstances?

This type of situation is a great opportunity to show empathy and understanding. Anyone who has been a new parent for the first time knows how exhausting it can be. It’s really, really easy to make mistakes and overlook important details because your brain is just focusing on surviving from one minute to the next. It’s a different kind of reality, so you can’t apply general rules to the situation. Fortunately, the company was empathetic. While the contact centre advisor didn’t have the authority to grant the refund, she escalated the query to the local branch manager, who did. After reading the mother’s explanation, the travel company refunded the difference less a small admin fee – much to her relief.

Why the rules don’t always apply

While it’s necessary to have policies in place, businesses should never forget that their customers are human. And that as humans, everyone makes mistakes from time to time. To hold customers to ransom because of fine print when the situation is different from the norm is not going to create a positive customer experience. But being gracious and empathetic could win them over for a lifetime.

In the above example, both the contact centre advisor and branch manager acted in the interests of the customer. While it went against their rules, they took into consideration that while it was a glaring mistake, it quite likely was an honest one. Perhaps they understood the pain of being charged for something you didn’t want and couldn’t afford. Mostly, they showed empathy. They could have taken a hard line and said it was the client’s fault for not reading the terms and conditions, but instead they showed that they were human too, understanding that mistakes could be made.

What should advisors do?

A critical part of empowering advisors to discern when it’s okay to not follow the rules is instilling in them an understanding of customer value and the importance of retaining customers. When that becomes part of the company culture, it becomes the anchor point from which decisions can be made.  Set parameters in place, allowing some leeway on the rules and giving advisors the freedom to make the decisions themselves based on individual queries.

What’s the right thing to do for the customer? Well, place yourself in the customer’s shoes: how would you feel if you’d made the costly mistake? How would you feel to receive understanding and empathy instead of being told: ‘It’s your fault and too bad!’ Sometimes it’s doing what’s not expected that wins and retains customers – remembering that they are human and showing that you’re human too!

When it comes to people’s behaviour, it can be simple or more complex. For more information on how Ember can help your team, check out their People Skills Series, which covers those areas where people’s behaviours can be improved, not just for the benefit of the business, but for company morale, interpersonal relationships and overall personal satisfaction.

Author: Jonty Pearce

Published On: 14th Feb 2018 - Last modified: 4th May 2018
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