Will Your Customers Forgive You?

“The true test of a business’ customer service effort is not when things are going right –but rather is done when things go wrong.” – Steve Ferrante

We all know that companies mess up – quite often. We also know that some customers can be quite difficult and unforgiving. However, research shows that over 40% of customers forgive a brand if they believe that the company has been serving them well, and made them feel special. It may seem obvious that companies need forgiving customers, but why is customer forgiveness so crucial? Over time when customers forgive, it becomes a company’s greatest asset, since every company messes up from time to time. Customer forgiveness means that they trust the company enough to give them a second chance by making amends and efforts to restore their faith and confidence. However, if customers do not like a company for whatever reasons, mistakes and lapses serve to reinforce a customer’s perception of the company’s incompetence and incapability.

It is important for a company to understand how willing and often customers forgive, in order to establish whether it has been able to build trust with them. Customers understand that as humans, every company and its employees would be prone to mistakes. However, if a company has made a sustained effort to create and build great relationships, customers forgive. Unforgiving customers, we know, can cause extensive damage to any company, by ending the relationship, spreading negative word of mouth, and posting negative comments on-line for all to see, which in turn could negatively affect other existing and potential customers. When a company’s reputation falls, other business ‘partners’ tend to shy away from the company too – employees, investors, vendors, and other stakeholders of a company. In time, the company could face closure.

The good news for companies is that they can gain customer forgiveness, depending on their culture and approach to forging and enhancing relationships with customers. Customers forgive, if a company may have made consistent and genuine efforts to build trust, and ensure efficient service recovery preventing any further problems to a customer. It is up to a company to make a success of its customer service, and succeed in differentiating itself by providing top class customer experiences, irrespective of the industry within which it operates. Customers forgive companies that make an effort – they are not concerned with problems, industry, and other such factors. Research shows that over 52% customers would forgive and stay with a company that offered personalized experiences, and around 51% said they prefer companies that treat them as individuals and offer a human touch.

There are several examples of how and why customers forgive, but the one thing common is that customers become so incredibly magnanimous when they trust a company. Trust takes time and effort to build – customers know this too – and if they trust a company, it means that the company would have invested huge amounts of time and resources to gain their trust, and customers reciprocate by overlooking mistakes. Customers forgive because they understand that errors are part of human interactions, but would instantly turn disloyal and agitated if they perceive deception or lies of any manner. If customers have reason to believe that, a company has been dishonest and purposefully neglected their obligations towards them, they would turn angry and vengeful, wreaking havoc through a number of ways. A company with customers gunning for it would not be able to stand for too long, which is why customer trust leading to forgiveness is imperative.

It is important for a company to start at the most basic level – hiring right, building a culture of customer focus, upgrading technology, investing in customer data management and analytics tools, and other such measures to truly grasp how customers think and why they behave in a certain manner. Research repeatedly shows that customers become loyal and trust a company when they receive top class service – this is the view of at least 89% customers. With so many customers saying the same thing, the reasons for why customers forgive or do not, become very apparent. At least 46% customers say that speedy and efficient responses and manner of dealing with problems also alters their perception about a company. The better a company gets at speedy resolutions and responses, the more likely customers would be to forgive them for minor lapses.

As mentioned, customers forgive because they understand that companies function through humans, and errors therefore, are inevitable. According to research, customers tend to be more loyal to companies that make amends on errors and resolve problems fast and satisfactorily, as compared to those that may provide a consistent but satisfactory level of service. It is hard to decipher the reasons for why customers forgive or do not, but every company must make the effort to provide consistently top class service, high quality products, and memorable experiences to insure customer forgiveness in the instances of errors. What matters most to customers is how well a company handles its error, and they would most certainly become irate if the company were unable to accept their mistake and fix the problem swiftly and with empathy.

We have repeatedly said that it is imperative for a company’s employees, especially the customer service staff, to receive on-going and consistent training on how to manage customer service situations. Customers are not interested in who within a company solves their problems, but rather how well the problem is managed and corrected. It is not hard to see why the good reputation of a company depends a lot, on how the service employees deal with customer issues. However, a strong culture of customer-focus starts at the very top of any company. If customers forgive or do not, the blame would lie with the company and its values. The service staff must feel empowered and have the leeway to provide spot solutions to the company’s most valued customers in order to retain them and enhance their profitability. Companies must learn that if they are to gain customer trust and forgiveness, they must first practice these with their employees. Depending on how employees feel when working with a company, would be the same behaviour they show to customers.

If customers forgive or do not is actually a direct reflection on what practices a company follows with its employees. Right hiring and proper training will ensure that the service staff have an eye to notice even the slightest hint of a problem, and they would be equipped to make decisions for the customer without constantly waiting for approval ‘for someone up there’. Service excellence cannot be achieved through shortcuts rather it must be a joined and concerted effort of everyone in the company. It is all about gaining and keeping the trust of customers, such that when things do go wrong despite best efforts, customers forgive and stay with a company.

Considering that no business can exist without customers, and that companies are in business to serve customers, should not providing them with the best experiences and service be top priority? It seems strange that companies need to be reminded constantly that it takes a lot to gain and retain a customer, but one instance of poor service can completely destroy customer trust, leading them away from a company for good. Customers forgive when a company handles its misgivings and errors speedily, with integrity and empathy, and makes every effort to ensure that the customer does not similar face issues. Earning trust, respect, and admiration of customers is a sure shot way to success and long-term profitability.

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