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When ‘I’m sorry’ is not enough

A well-timed apology to a customer with a problem can save the day. Unless, of course, it ends there.

Our new Samsung refrigerator was one week old. The ice dispenser was frosting up. A call to Samsung customer service (as prescribed in the manual) reached a customer service rep who immediately said:

“We’re sorry for any inconvenience. Tell me your problem.”

I did.

“Oh, that sounds like a normal startup. Just clean off the frost and it should be OK,” she advised. “And, again, we’re sorry for any inconvenience.”

We cleaned off the frost. Two days later, it was frosted up again.

“We’re sorry for any inconvenience,” said the customer service rep answering my second call.

I explained the problem and the results of my first call.

“Our tech staff is really busy these days (with refrigerator complaints, I figure) but I’ll have one of them call you back within two days,” she promised, “and we’re very sorry for any inconvenience.”

Three days later and no call back! So I called again, outlining the problem and the history.

“I’m sorry for your inconvenience,” said the third customer service rep, “and I will make sure you’re called by our tech people tomorrow.”

Forty-eight hours later, no call back.

With our new refrigerator still frosted (and me reaching the same condition), I chose to ignore the owner’s manual that said “Do not return this product to the store, contact Samsung customer service.” I decided to call The Home Depot, which I bought it. Frankly, I really didn’t want to do that. After all, The Home Depot didn’t manufacture this product, Samsung did. And in the boat business I’ve seen how the dealer can be caught between the customer and the manufacture over a problem clearly created by the builder.

But I called anyway and explained everything. I was assured by Melissa that she’d jump on it “first thing in the morning and we’ll get some action.” And, yes, she was also “very sorry for your inconvenience.” But, to The Home Depot’s credit, Melissa did exactly what she promised and our phone rang from a Samsung customer rep.

As of this writing, we’re waiting for a call from Samsung’s local service provider. We’re confident the problem will get solved, one way or another. But the point of this blog isn’t our refrigerator. Rather, that there’s something of real value to take away from this experience and here it is:

Apologizing to a customer when something goes wrong is the first and right thing to do. Maybe it’s not even your fault. It doesn’t matter at that point. It’s bad policy to let a customer stew in disappointment or anger for any amount of time. It’s time to apologize and move forward. A good four-step formula would be: (1) Apologize; (2) Explain what you will do to satisfy the customer; (3) Make some amends, if applicable to the situation; and (4) Apologize again.

Samsung essentially followed 1, 2 and 4. But, this situation clearly indicates there should be a Step 5. It’s having a fail-safe system in place to document a problem and record what action is being taken. And, most important, the system should include the customer service rep following up to see that whatever action has been promised the customer is actually being fulfilled.

More specifically, in this illustration, at least two of the three Samsung customer reps who committed to have the tech people call should have been required to follow up with their tech group to see that the commitment was being kept. Just assuming someone else is doing it is clearly not enough. Further, if for any reason it is not being handled as promised, the customer rep should be the one responsible to immediately contact the customer to explain further action.

Absolutely, an apology is a great first step. But only keeping promises to resolve the problem — and timely communication with the customer — completes the circle. How does the system work at your dealership?

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