S.A.F.E. Way to Handle Service Breakdowns

Customer service, customer satisfaction

June 19, 2018 — By Jerry Roberts

Oh no, you've dropped the ball and now a customer is really mad. This is a disaster. Or maybe a golden opportunity. Which is it?

Service breakdowns aren't a matter of "if," but "when." Nobody escapes them. Everybody makes mistakes.

Customers know that ... they're not perfect, either.

When they bring you a problem, what they want to know is what you're going to do about it. Is everything going to be OK?

What happens next will define the relationship you're going to have with this customer moving forward.

I've written a course on just this topic and, while I can't give it all to you here in 700 words, I can provide the framework.

​Customer service is a test of everything that you promise in your marketing, and problem solving is a test of that customer service. Don't fail the test.

Some important issues

I want you to solve the problem the S.A.F.E. way. S.A.F.E. is an acronym and we'll dive into it in just a moment. First, let's see if we can agree on some basic, yet important issues.

1. The customer doesn't care who caused the problem. They just want it solved.

2. People with a problem don't want to get passed around from department to department, before somebody mercifully takes charge and gets something done. Training your service staff to "own" a problem is a big positive step. If the service rep can't solve it, they personally should make contact with someone who can, and then follow through on behalf of the customer to arrive at a solution. Don't leave the customer hanging, without a clear picture of what will happen next.

3. You spent some of your profits to acquire this customer. If you do a good job you may retain him/her for years, with a lifetime customer value that could be in the thousands of dollars, and you don't have to pay another penny in acquisition costs. Customer service is a test of everything that you promise in your marketing, and problem solving is a test of that customer service. Don't fail the test.

4. If things turn out well, the customer won't care that they had the problem. If your service is poor and – worse – comes with a flavor of bad attitude, they'll never forget how you botched the opportunity to make things right.

What is S.A.F.E.?

Okay, back to S.A.F.E. It's easy to follow and easy to remember.

S is for Sorry. Apologize for the customer's inconvenience. Show them you're understanding and sincerely want to be of help. The mere act of saying you're sorry for their trouble goes a long way toward lowering their blood pressure and calming them down. If there's any concern over who may be responsible for the problem, including financially responsible, saying you're sorry isn't admitting guilt ... it's just a nice human thing to do. It says, "I care." That's all.

A is for Ask. Get all the details of what went wrong. Let the customer vent if they're really upset. They're not mad at you personally, so don't take it that way. Make notes and let them know you want to know everything.

F is for Fix. If you can solve the problem, go for it. If you can't, then involve the people who can. Sit down with the customer and discuss possible outcomes. If the right people aren't immediately available find out when they will be, so that the customer knows when the situation will be addressed.

E is for Educate. Document the entire episode in detail, writing it up as a case study so that everybody in your organization can see it from start to finish. The next time the issue arises your staff will know exactly what to do.

S.A.F.E. The safe way to handle recovery when customer service problems pop up.

To learn ​how your organization can level up your customer service in the S.A.F.E. way and have service drive greater growth, click here.

Customer service trouble is also customer service opportunity, a chance for you to show how great your organization is when it comes to taking care of the people who voted with their wallet, showing you they believed in what you're doing.

Honor their buying decision by being twice as good at customer service as you are at selling stuff. You'll never regret it.

​Originally published in the Guam Daily Post, where J​erry Roberts' column, The Work Zone, appears each Tuesday.