Importance of Failure for better Service

“Unless you have 100% customer satisfaction, you must improve.”- Horst Schulz

Seriously – we are recommending failure for better service? There should be no failure and customer service lapses right. Wrong. Learning from failure is perhaps one of the highest forms of gaining knowledge and improving, especially in the realm of customer service. Despite this truism, many companies seem to take failure as absolute and when they do fail, they forget to use the learning there is also failure to improve service in the future. Many wasted opportunities! This does not imply that companies are not truly interested in helping their customers and not keen on building their business, but unless they understand the importance of failure for better service, they will not grow. Without high levels of customer service, there will be no customers and without them, a company will cease to exist.

There is true wisdom in understanding the importance of failure to improve service and business. Failure, it is believed is bad and there is a myopic view attached to it. Companies look at whatever they did incorrectly and tutor their people to avoid those mistakes that led to the failure or put up ‘core teams’ to investigate the failure and then let everyone in the company more the reasons for it. The importance of failure to improve service should not be undermined since failure is a given – there will be times when customer service, product quality and other business imperatives fail to live up to their standards. Not learning from failure would mean that a company is wasting many opportunities to serve their customers better and create new and improved products. To understand thoroughly the importance of failure for better service, companies need to change their mind-set and outlook towards failure. Grasping the importance of failure for better service is about discarding traditional beliefs and thought processes about it and about revamping the perceptions of success. Companies are becoming smarter and sharper and hence there is no excuse to ignoring the importance of failure as a route to success.

To gain from failure the first and foremost mind-set change required is to put an end to assigning blame. This is a traditional view of failure remedy – pointing fingers is simply a way of shifting responsibility that does more harm than good in any business situation – customer service included. This is one of the ways to undermine the importance of failure and not using it as a chance to become even better and more effective the next time round. Assigning importance to failure for better service and other business imperatives means that the company has a culture of learning. Allowing employees to err, learn from their errors and improve their performance is the best form of learning and instilling a culture of constant improvement.

Companies that do not attach importance to failure and look at it as a learning opportunity, are more likely to penalize their employees for making mistakes. This in turn results in an environment of stress, lethargy, people refusing to be creative and sticking only to the job descriptions assigned to them. Such companies cannot boast of innovation, high levels of customer service or even products and services that are unique and will soon find themselves out of business. It is the onus of the company to ensure a comfortable working environment, reasonable working hours and timings, flexibility, shared workloads, challenging assignments and projects and other such good practices in order to expect more from their employees.

Understanding failure and its importance will enable a company to put in place an effective strategy to counter it and use it as a chance to improve service and other aspects of their business. This does not mean that some failures are not preventable – they are. However in order to prevent them, a company must know how to deal with each situation that does or could result in failure. In the realm of customer service, for example, the most visible form of failure is when a customer becomes dissatisfied and threatens to leave the company. For any company customer service is probably the most critical yet highly ignored and neglected areas in the ‘books’ of the senior leadership. Given that customer service is a highly subjective realm – the pleasure or displeasure of customers would stem from their individual perspectives and hence without understanding how to turn failure to opportunity in this realm, a company could be setting itself up for failure.

If a company’s leadership does not view customer service as a critical element to the company’s success, it would impossible for them to understand the importance of failure for better service. Without improved service, the number of complaints would begin to rise and the company’s reputation would drop drastically, leading to even prospective customers turning away from the company.  Senior leadership that fails to understand the criticality of customer service, would be unlikely to establish procedures that would understand the importance of failure to better service. This in turn leads to a breakdown of customer service since there would be no efforts made to learn and rectify service failure. As customers begin to express their displeasure, companies begin to lay blame on employees, put in stringent methods that display lack of trust in them and the overall environment is one of stress and fighting each other.

To display a true understanding of the importance of failure companies must provide training and coaching opportunities to the staff instead of playing the blame game. What a company gives to its employees, the employees would pass on to the customers – good and bad. Companies, it would seem, are fixated on making their sales and marketing and promotional efforts better in a bid to attract new customers. This is despite the fact that it is tougher and more expensive to gain new customers. Should not companies fixate on learning how to retain customers through excellence in service and one of the methods is to understand the role and importance of failure in improving customer service? There is no surprise then that customer churn rises and sometimes reaches levels beyond 25%, leaving companies struggling and frantic. Post customers leaving, the importance of failure once again ‘goes out the window’ and companies fixate on putting strategies in place to attract new customers rather than salvaging the situation with the ones who have left or are threatening to leave. This lop-sided customer strategy is in place because companies and their leaders are blind to importance of failure for better service.

Retaining customers is of prime importance but there are times when companies will fail to please customers given the human factor. However, the critical thing to remember is the importance of failure and to treat each failed service as an opportunity by speaking with customers and understanding how to rectify the problem – for good if possible. Customers who receive swift and effective service recovery are more likely to become loyal and spread the good word to others, thereby promoting a healthier bottom line and profit margins for the company.

A company that understands the importance of failure is an empathetic and caring employer too – which in turn translates to being able to attract some of the best talent in the market. When employees are not scared to try, even if they fail, great things happen for a company – new products, innovative ideas and even superlative customer service. Failure is not the end of a company nor does it spell disaster – rather it should be another chance to get closer to customers and provide them with stellar and memorable service.

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