Thursday, September 3, 2009

Never Blame the Customer, Even If It’s Their Fault

Written by Lori Jo Vest,

During my day job managing a television production studio, every week presents abundant examples of customer service – both good and bad. A few weeks ago, we encountered one of the worst customer service examples I’ve ever experienced.

One of our customers was doing a project that involved creating a marketing video to demonstrate the benefits of an alternative energy system. It was targeted to the government, specifically the military. While they had images of their own equipment and we were creating a 3D animated model of their system, they needed stock video footage showing members of the U.S. Army to fill out the program.

One of our staff members investigated all of the options for military footage, including several commercial stock footage library services. Basically, you pay for the rights to use the footage in your program for a specific purpose. The owner of the stock footage provides the images and assures you that it can be legally used.

Use of stock footage is a common practice in the video business and the processes are standard. You go online and pick the scenes you want to purchase, submit your credit card information, and you either download the footage or the company lays it off onto a videotape or disc and sends it to you.

In this case, we ordered the disc and the company sent it to us. The only problem was that the disc was completely blank when it arrived. Oh, well, mistakes happen, so we called the company. The project manager explained to the man who answered the telephone that we would need a new disc. ”Hmmmmm,” he said. “It sure looked like it was copying onto the DVD when I did it.” No apology and no explanation. We also found it rather interesting that he owned up to the fact that he hadn’t checked the disc before he shipped it. Weird.

A few days later, the program was finished and life went on. Or so we thought. Actually, when the bill arrived, we found two shipping charges on our invoice for $50 each. One was for the blank disc and the other was for the disc that had the footage on it. Of course, we didn’t want to pay for the first shipping charge, so our project manager called the company back.

“That’s petty,” the man who had originally handled our project told her. “It wouldn’t have been blank if you hadn’t been in such a hurry to get the footage. I would have had time to check it, if it hadn’t been a rush.”

We were floored! It was our fault that this man had made a mistake? We should eat a $50 shipping charge that wasn’t in our client’s budget because of his sloppy work habits? It was appalling, though he finally agreed to take the charge off of the bill. And the icing on the cake? He emailed our employee that had first made contact with him to tell him that our company was “petty” to ask for a refund of the $50 shipping cost for the blank disc and that he “won’t change (his) standard turn-around time to meet (our) company’s rush needs again.”

The whole occurrence was outrageous, actually, as this vendor always had the option of turning down our original request if he wasn’t able to provide the necessary quality control. Plus, it takes about three minutes to check a disc to make sure that the footage you believe you copied onto it is, in fact, on the disc.

This company has no need to worry about changing its “standard turn-around time” for us, as we definitely won’t be calling him again for any stock footage. There are so many competing companies in his area of the business that it shouldn’t be a problem to find one that doesn’t blame their customers for their mistakes.

This was a great example of what not to do when you make a mistake. What should you do instead? Own it! Tell your customer what happened, then immediately set about making it right. Re-do the job, re-deliver the product – do whatever it takes. In fact, do more than it takes. If you handle mistakes with integrity and a strong commitment to giving your customer what they need, they’ll come back. And that’s what it’s all about anyway, right?

What do you think? Can you think of a time that you or your company made a mistake? Did your actions strengthen the customer relationship or hurt it? What could you have done better? What can you do so it won’t happen again?

Lori Jo Vest is a co-author of “Who’s Your Gladys? How to Turn Even the Most Difficult Customer into Your Biggest Fan,” recently released by AMACOM Books/New York. She manages a Michigan-based television production studio, Communicore Visual Communications, when she’s not consulting with small business owners to help them enhance their customer experience. To learn more about “Who’s Your Gladys,” check out the book’s trailer at

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