(Reprinted from Chris Mittelstaedt’s column, “Eureka,” on Inc.com.)
Every business makes mistakes. What you do next is the difference between losing customers forever and gaining lifelong fans.
Things go wrong in businesses. And when they do, you need to get out in front, accept responsibility, and make things right for those affected.
Here is a step-by-step guide to resolving a crisis effectively, based on what I’ve been through when I’ve failed customers. To lighten things up a bit (hey, if you’re in the middle of a crisis you probably need a laugh), I’ve used a hypothetical business situation that I’m pretty sure has never happened anywhere. But the principles are the same, no matter what kind of company you run.
Step 1: Address the problem as soon as possible.
Summarize and admit the big facts. Apologize and take responsibility for what happened.
Dear Ms. Green, This morning our elephant ate the roses in your backyard. I wanted to make you immediately aware of this and offer my sincerest apology with an explanation and description of what steps we are taking to correct the problem. We are giving this issue the highest priority and concern across the entire organization. We will fully replace the roses that our elephant took from you.
Step 2: State who you are and what you plan to do on a macro level.
As ringmaster, I was made aware of the situation early Friday morning. I immediately drove directly to your home and met with the gardener. He explained to me that while pruning the hedges, he looked over his shoulder and noticed a trunk coming from over the fence and plucking your rose bushes out of the ground. I do not doubt that this was our elephant. Previous to this incident, we have allowed our elephants to roam the towns we visit during their off hours. We are now changing this policy.
Step 3: Get specific about your actions. Affirm your commitment to a long-term positive outcome.
Immediately: Replacement of rosebushes. I would like to bring in a rosebush specialist to meet with you tomorrow and work with you on choosing replacement bushes to be installed next week. Our team of gophers is experts in digging and planting, and we are asking our ladybug department to stay behind for an extra week to make sure that no aphids take root after our planting.
End of the month: Follow-up. At the end of the month, after the bushes have had time to root down and become adjusted to your soil, I would like to send in a team of sparrows to conduct aerial viewings and to test the flexibility of the rose stems as a final inspection. Once this is approved, please let us know that all is well in your garden.
Long-term commitment to customer happiness. If in the future you have issues with your roses, I would be happy to follow up with one of our experts to see how we can help make sure that your plants stay healthy.
Step 4: Apologize again and offer your contact information.
Again, Ms. Green, my sincerest apologies for the actions of my elephant friend last week. I want to leave you with all of my contact information. If you ever have any questions, I am happy to answer them personally. Please feel free to send an email to email@example.com. Thank you. We are committed to getting this resolved to your satisfaction.