What to Do When “Stuff Happens”

Nobody’s perfect, and customers generally don’t expect perfection.

Servers go down. Files get deleted, or misplaced. Messages are missed. Mistakes are made. As long as the snafus aren’t chronic, a good client will generally tolerate a problem once in a while. More important than whether something goes wrong is how you handle it.

The subject is on my mind because the Phil on Advertising E-Newsletter didn’t go out at its scheduled time this morning. One of the things that I like best about the company that distributes my newsletter is that I can write it in advance, schedule it to go out at a specific time in the future, and forget about it.

For nearly four years, the system has worked beautifully. But at 9:10 this morning, when Phil on Advertising was scheduled to land in Inboxes around the country, there was only silence. I checked again at 9:15 — nothing. 9:25 am… nada.

So I called the company — who will go nameless here because they’ve done a good job over the years — and asked the guy who answered to check it.

Him: “Oh. Yeah. We’ve been having this problem all week. We have to send everything out manually.”

Me: “So… could you send MINE out manually?”

Him: “Yeah, I’ll check with my I.T. guy and see if he can do it.”

A half hour later the newsletter was out (you can subscribe here), and I was still shaking my head. They knew they had a problem before I called. They knew that their customers would have newsletters to go out — after all, that’s what they do. And yet, “Phil on Advertising” would still be sitting in the Outbox if I hadn’t taken it upon myself to check it and call.

What do you do when stuff happens? Here are a few things that will increase the odds that your customers will stay with you.

1. Call your customers before they find out, and tell them. “Here’s what went wrong, and here’s what we’re doing to fix it.” Not necessarily a pleasant conversation, but much more pleasant than the conversation you’ll have when the client finds out on his own. In my case, an email in advance from the newsletter company would have given me a chance to warn them that I had an issue ready to go.

2. If you need some temporary help from the client to make sure everything runs smoothly, ask for it. Most will be happy to oblige. If my newsletter company had told me that for the next few days, they would have no way of knowing what would be going out, I’d have gladly called them and told them when to send mine.

3. Volunteer to compensate the customer for any inconvenience. The compensation doesn’t necessarily have to be anything big — the key is that you offer before the customer asks.

4. Apologize and let your clients know what steps you’ve taken to make sure it won’t happen again.

Marketing Consultant Paul Weyland once remarked that in the age of the Internet, you either need to make a disgruntled customer happy, or kill him and bury him in the backyard. The steps above will help ensure that you don’t have to start digging anytime soon.


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