Own it. Apologize. Do better.

All of my work has been customer focused, including my first career in Human Resources and current role as a business owner, but it was my high-school job as a server that taught me almost everything I hold dear about customer relationships.

It was one of my first Sunday brunch shifts and the restaurant was busier than I had ever experienced. I remember messing up one couple’s meal to the point where they hardly had anything to eat.  They didn’t bring the errors to my attention; I realized what I’d done and immediately went to apologize.  I remember joking with them for a few minutes, serving extra coffee and doing my best to make sure that the rest of their breakfast was flawless.  When I went to clear the table  they had left me a ten dollar tip for a breakfast that only cost about twelve, along with a ‘Thank you!’ written on the receipt.  It was my first real lesson that it’s not a mistake that will rid you of your tip (or your customer) but your attitude.   I owned the mistake, apologized (profusely), was able to joke with them and did better throughout the rest of their meal.

Cleaning up my own mistakes, and lessons learned, have made me a harsh critic of customer service. I expect, at a minimum, the representative will be courteous and helpful which is why an experience at our local Staples store recently left me so frustrated that I tweeted:

@staplescanada Sale price more than regular price? Sorry, reg price has never been $174. Isn’t that fraud?? #fail  yfrog.com/h0m09smj   

I try not to use twitter as a tool for complaining, or things generally negative, but, I was so irritated that I clicked send instead of delete.  It wasn’t long before I had a reply from @staplescanada asking for more information so they could look into the situation.

I won’t bore you with the details but when I questioned the sales associate about the price discrepancy he was less than helpful.  It was a very civil exchange, no one was rude, but he obviously didn’t have a clue what had happened yet kept trying different explanations. Finally, he responded with a shrug and ‘okay’ when I said I would buy my cartridges elsewhere.

But, Staples Canada was listening.  They used social media to engage me in a conversation and then stayed in touch via email while they looked into the situation. The local store manager called me directly to apologize and set things right. What meant even more than the small discount he offered was his promise to talk to his employees about taking care of customers.

Just before the manager’s call, Ashley Jang, Social Media Community Specialist, emailed me and offered a gift card as an apology. What makes this so extraordinary is that UPS delivered the card while I had fully intended to wait until the mail strike ended. A very nice touch.

As a small business owner, I fall down often but try to do my best to make it up to customers when something goes wrong and it’s nice to see big business doing the same. Unfortunately, I’m often left feeling unappreciated, or worse – invisible, when dealing with corporations so Staples’ attentiveness was a welcome surprise.

I will continue to be a customer thanks to their responsiveness and I congratulate Staples for their use of social media. Moreover, I congratulate them for owning their mistake, apologizing and doing better.

My negative tweet was followed a few days later with:

Kudos to @StaplesCanada for engaging with me after an issue in-store. Thanks for acknowledging my tweet & resolving! #customerservice


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