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Sunday, November 14, 2010


and how to lose it very quickly!  "Trust" is the latest buzz word being touted in business literature.  I've recently experienced loss of it as a consumer, so it got me thinking about it as a small business owner.  As consumers, we expect businesses to meet our needs without much effort on our parts.  We place an order, and we expect to receive it as described seamlessly. These days, with all the social media and emphasis on making personal connections, even with businesses, we're expecting even more from business owners and feeling downright hurt if our expectations aren't met.  That's even more pressure on the business owner than before!

For example, I had signed up for an online course, which had as part of the package a free one-month trial of an additional service.  The offer was that, after the free trial, my account then would be charged an additional fee each month.  I tried to access the site on which the additional service was being offered, but something technologically wasn't working.  After reporting the problem, I received a personal email from the owner explaining the inaccessibility problem and the solution that would be implemented in the future, and assuring me that my automatic account charge had been cancelled.  I had known exactly the date by which I would need to cancel in order to avoid the charge, but I trusted that the matter had been addressed.  As I'm sure you've figured out by now, I was charged.

Of course, I shot off an email expressing my frustration because I was mad at the owner and myself for not going to the site and ensuring that the account really was cancelled.  But, then, I tried to think through my personal reactions as a consumer and how that might affect how a small business owner should react in such a situation.  The response I received was an example of what I think the current business rhetoric is -- give a detailed explanation of what went wrong.  Yeah, that's great, but frankly as a consumer, I'm not sure I really care what went wrong -- I want to know what you, Ms. Business Owner, are going to do to make things right.  Now, in this particular case, such information was included in the response, but it came later in the email.  I think that information needs to be the first thing that you need to convey to your unhappy customer.

Also, don't read too much into what the consumer is telling you and give answers not warranted or required -- in the response, the owner said "I assure you there was nothing sneaky going on here."  Nowhere in my message did I suggest that I thought that anything had been done deliberately or with malicious intent.  In fact, I had clearly stated that I thought the mistake that the owner (and I) had made was to rely on the automated service of a third party vendor.  Mmmm, why are you (business owner) bringing this up and planting it in my head?!

So, the takeaway lesson here? -- 1) immediately address the steps you have taken or are going to take to ensure a solution to the customer's complaint, 2) if necessary, give some explanation of what went wrong, but don't go on so much that it starts sounding like an excuse, and 3) throw in an attractive treat that will encourage the customer to shake off this bad episode and give you a chance again in the future (pay attention, sometimes the customer will indicate what will make him or her happy and keep them coming back).

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