Fail in Favor of the Customer

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I talk to lots of companies about who they hire and how they train.

Because, let’s face it, any company with more than one employee relies on the entire staff to deliver on the promise of the brand, or at least the promise made in the marketing brochure.

Companies that get this work to hire and train for fit and service, strive to empower their people to make decisions in the field and to think like entrepreneurs.

Companies the really get this know that mistakes will be made and only ask that when they make a mistake or are faced with a tough customer related decision, make it in favor of the customer.

This mindset doesn’t ask you to encourage mistakes, but it may be the ticket to actually empowering your staff. Everyone talks about empowerment, but this may be the dead simple filter for how to really install it. If you let your people know that it’s okay to make mistakes as long as they favor the customer, you may equip them with the tools they need to make decisions that always reflect positively on the brand.

With this mindset, you may indeed eat a few projects gone bad, but the potential good buzz created by making a decision that has a positive outcome for the customer, will pay dividends far beyond the decision to jump in and spend money to fix something gone awry.

Your staff must learn from mistakes, but if as an organization this is the culture, mistakes, and your ability to overcome them in stunning fashion, can define the brand in a way that generates a reputation for remarkable service, loyal customers and, perhaps most importantly, confident and supported employees.


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  1. There is no such thing as failing as long as you continue to try and always put the customer first. It’s all about empowerment in organizations and even in relationships. Empower people to make decisions for the company and they are going to feel more commitment and know that every move they make can make or break the brand. They are doing “Whatever it Takes” for the customer. Great post John.

    1. This empowerment word is one that gets thrown around by every organization as a good thing to do – what’s missing often times is a practical way to define and install it. That’s what I hope this addresses to a small degree.

  2. This reminds me of something I read about a year or so ago which stated that any company which does not give their customer service reps (or whomever interacts with the customer) the power to take immediate action (whether a discount, refund, return or some other action) without having to clear it with any level above is going to fail at customer service.

    Love the focus on the customer; it’s why we’re all here after all!

    1. Yep Matt, many companies talk about it and then either don’t give the front line folks the green light or worse, reprimand them when they do take the right course to fix a mistake.

  3. i recently had a run with an orbitz customer service rep that ended in my losing of 1000 dollars because of a miscommunication. In this situation, they failed to put me, the customer, first, and as such, have lost my business, but also allowed me to learn the lesson as well. If you make a mistake, it must favor the customer rather than yourself to produce a positive image of your company

    Great post,

  4. I had a long running issue with Comcast last year, over an account they had messed up after a move. After multiple phone calls and trips to my local office, I gave up tin frustration. However, I did go on their website, and I submitted my story in a customer service form called “tell our vice president”. I was contacted within 24 hours, the person who talked to me was very apologetic (as opposed to others who refused to acknowledge any sort of mistake), got everything corrected, and gave me a direct phone number to call should I have any more problems.

    I talked about this from a slightly different angle in my blog (using an exercise from improv theatre) just yesterday:
    Make your Partner Look Good:

  5. Excellent advice. Instructing employees to err in favor of a customer is simple to follow and it results in much better customer service. That said, I’ve instances in my business where prospective and current clients were exceptionally rude to my employees. They cursed and treated my staff in an unacceptable manner. The reason for this is I’m not always around and some of my clients want instant access. Sometimes I’m booking a week or two down the road. I’ve told my employees that if anyone swears at them or treats them in badly to simply thank them for calling and to hang up and then let me know. I will not offer services to people who behave in that way. It’s unacceptable and I believe empowering employees to also exercise judgment in these situations is important as well because they do not need to take such abuse.

  6. Hi John,
    Thanks for writing this post. My company, The Dunvegan Group, specializes in customer satisfaction, and customer retention, and we see this all the time. If employees are intimidated by mistakes, they won’t learn much by covering them up. Both the customer and the organization suffer.

    I recently wrote an article on customer satisfaction and team building that may be of interest to people enjoying this post:

    Sincerely, Anne Miner, President, The Dunvegan Group

  7. Thank you for posting this. In my experience, I’ve had managers who care more about saving money than customer service. It puts the employees- who have the DEAL with the customers- it such an uncomfortable situation.

  8. As an owner of a business, this is sometimes hard advice to handle. I am always challenging my staff to not make pricing errors. It is rare that the pricing errors go in our favor. Continuous training somewhat mitigates this but we still need to teach our staff to “hold strong” when pricing a project. However, when problems are encountered with a project, we always resolve the issue in the favor of the customer.

  9. Thanks for the Post! Our company works hard to deliver a fantastic customer experience. Recently we shipped an order to Texas and the customer called to say that 2 jars of the 200 jar honey hex jar favor order had gold tops which where slightly scratched. We immediately sent her the replacement tops- no questions asked. We always aim to resolve an issue in favor of the customer.

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