An Excuse...or an Explanation?

By Ron Rosenberg

We've all experienced it before: something goes wrong; you contact the vendor, and they read you the complete laundry list of excuses. If you're lucky, you might get some kind of apology or an update on what's being done to correct the problem. There are times, however, when a simple explanation can help diffuse a situation.

Where Are Our Websites?!

A few weeks ago, we were planning on updating some content on one of our websites and were alarmed to discover that we couldn't access the WordPress dashboard and, instead, received the following message:

Service Unavailable
The server is temporarily unable to service your request due to maintenance downtime or capacity problems. Please try again later.
Apache Server at qualitytalk.com Port 80

The first obvious step was to make sure I could reach other websites. This is roughly the equivalent of the owner's manual troubleshooting section that says, "Is the device plugged in?" A quick stop at google.com told us that it was all good.

The next stop was a call to our hosting company, where the tech-support representative checked his "known issues" list and said that there was nothing wrong - it could be a temporary situation, and that I should check back in about an hour.

Still No Website...

An hour later I called back to see what the problem was and why we were still getting 503 errors. I spoke to Jeff in technical support who checked into it for a few minutes, and then said it looks like a known issue on some servers, and guess what - ours was one of them!

A little frustrated at this point, I asked him why the previous representative couldn't tell me this, and his answer was interesting...and surprising:

"Well, to be perfectly honest - and this isn't meant to be an excuse - we've been hiring quite a few new people, and let's just say, they're not all up to speed yet."

I appreciated his candor and especially the fact that he didn't try to make excuses.

Which brings us to the real meat of this article - the difference between "excuses" and "explanations."

But It's Not Our Fault!

I can't even count the number of times I've called a customer-service call center only to have the representative explain to me how a late shipment wasn't their fault, but the shipping company's, or that an incorrect product was because of another department's error.

The problem with answers like these is that it ignores one simple fact: I didn't buy the item from the shipping company, or from some other department- I bought it from their company.

If they have internal quality issues, that shouldn't be my problem. If they can't manage their vendors and suppliers, that shouldn't affect my customer experience.

So Where's the Balance?

I think the key is to be very clear in how you present information like this, being very sure not to frame it as an acceptable reason for the problems your customers are experiencing, but rather as a way of explaining what's happened, how you're going to fix it, and why it's not going to happen again.

When there's a quality or service issue, and it's addressed quickly and definitively, the level of customer loyalty can actually increase. This happens because people learn that when a problem occurs, you'll be there to make it right.

This is a very powerful strategy you should include in your customer-facing processes.

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August Interview

Cher Holton, Ph.D.

The Holton Consulting Group

How to Build Teams that Deliver Extraordinary Results

Considering all the people you work with on various teams, it sometimes seems like a miracle that anything actually gets done. Fortunately, there are specific actions you can take to build teams that deliver extraordinary results; and this month, Cher Holton, one of the leaders in the field of teamwork and president of The Holton Consulting Group, Inc., will explain how to make it all work.

Fortunately, there are specific actions you can take to build teams that deliver extraordinary results; and this month, Cher Holton, one of the leaders in the field of teamwork and president of The Holton Consulting Group, Inc., will explain how to make it all work.

You'll discover:

  • The issues that impact individual performance
  • Roadblocks to effective teamwork
  • Team-building exercises that actually deliver results!

 

Click here to find out how to use this article in your newsletter, magazine, or website.

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