Mistakes happen. We’re all human.
Especially during the busier times of the year (*ahem* the holidays), issues and problems seem to pop up more frequently - and when you’re already stretched thin.
These issues aren’t always within your control: From orders that go missing to incorrect product being delivered, it can feel like there’s always something sidetracking your productivity and frustrating a few of your customers.
But there’s good news: The occasional mishap isn’t the end of the world, especially if you handle things in a professional manner. In fact, delivering great customer support can be an opportunity to build stronger relationships with your customers in the long run.
So what do you do when you mess up? Let’s look at a few effective problem-solving steps that can help you better handle the occasional mistake.
Step One: Acknowledge and Apologize
The first step in handling mistakes is to acknowledge the error and take responsibility for it. You don’t need to write a novel about why it happened - just take ownership of the mistake and let your customer know you’re working on fixing it right away. Even if it wasn’t your fault, that’s not the customer’s concern. They contacted you to resolve an issue, so put on your customer support hat and say, “I’m sorry about that. Let’s fix this.”
Keep in mind that it’s always better to be upfront about a mistake rather than hoping a customer won’t notice. In most instances, they will - so be proactive and get out in front of it. Take the lead on problem-solving and show that you’re in control of the situation. Don’t wait for them to come to you and say, “Hey, what’s going on here?”
No matter the scenario, don’t push the mistake off on someone or something else. No one wants excuses. As the business owner, you have to own the errors along with the successes. It’s just part of the deal.
Step Two: Notify and Prioritize
It’s time to get to work. Fixing a mistake should always jump to the top of your to-do list. A quick fix shows you’re sorry for what’s happened and that you’re working hard to make things right. Your priority here is sharing a timeline for the solution with the customer, then actually following through. That’s Customer Care 101.
If the fix is taking longer than expected, still be sure to share an update on the status of the situation. The more in the loop the customer feels, the more peace of mind they’ll have.
Also, when it comes to frustrated customers, sometimes people just want to vent. Especially during the holidays, it’s best to remember that people are stressed and it’s probably not you they’re really angry with. Listen carefully to what they have to say and always respond in a calm, polite manner. Getting into a debate or argument with a customer will only escalate the situation, making it worse for all involved.
Step Three: Consider a Compromise
If your customer is still upset after you’ve resolved the issue and your brand reputation is at stake, you may need to consider a compromise. Offer free return shipping or a discount on the customer’s next order. If it’s a big mistake on your part, offer a refund. Money talks, so this option lets your customer know how serious you are about making things right.
Keep in mind that data shows it’s six times more expensive to earn a new customer than to retain an existing one. And with social media providing a fast and easy platform on which customers can vent, a bad mistake can hurt your brand in more ways than one. An angry customer sharing a poor experience online could scare off other customers, too.
Does this mean you need to offer a full refund every time a small mistake happens? No. You’re running a business, after all. But you should evaluate each instance on a case-by-case basis and be lenient when it feels right. In short, keep the customer happy, but stayed focused on what makes the most financial sense for your business.
Step Four: Move On
Once you’ve followed these first three steps, you’ve done all you can to resolve the issue. At this point, you’ve got to move on and let it go.
This step is especially hard for creatives. It can feel like the angry customer is making a personal attack on you as the maker. In most cases, though, that’s not true at all. Try to take the feedback constructively and keep on pushing forward.
Sure, your confidence might be a little rattled, but, guess what? It happens. You’re all right. Hang in there and learn from the experience. You can bet you won’t make the same mistake twice. (At least not on purpose!)
The bottom line: Accidents are unavoidable and unintentional 99.9% of the time. Don’t beat yourself up over it.
Mistakes Aren’t the End of the World
When you know how to handle the occasional error in your business and can work through the issue with your customer, these interactions can actually be important teaching moments.
Not only do they help you learn more about what your shoppers want and need from you, but they help you spot the areas in your business that may be causing issues for other customers, too. From a product malfunction to a shipping process flaw, confronting and resolving these problems will create a better overall experience for future buyers.
Don’t let the occasional mishap get you down - they aren’t the end of the world. Just work toward delivering the best customer support you can. Going above and beyond when fixing these issues makes you the hero, not the villain.
Kaleigh Moore is a freelance writer specializing in ecommerce and software. She also writes for publications like Inc. Magazine, Entrepreneur, and HuffPost.