Truly Meaning Sorry

I was talking the other day with the head of an Account Management unit. He explained the difficulties thrown up by having to handle the inevitable glitches of service delivery that crop up whilst you are trying to sell the next deal in.

As can often be the bizarre way, the bigger the bid, the more surprising and larger the unexpected and perhaps unprecedented is the problem.

When some such undeserved catastrophe afflicts a salesperson, I tend to explain how all is not lost. It is often the way that how you tackle the issue can set you up well. The most loyal of customers tend to be ones where something has gone wrong, but how you fixed it makes them reward you with ongoing business.

I once heard the owner of a huge transport company tell his stakeholders at a conference that delivery errors were part of the daily routine. Don’t get wound up over them, he preached. Everyone makes mistakes. It’s how you react and rectify that matters. (He was trying to create a culture where the client was told as soon as possible and staff then moved mountains to remedy).

I also remember, thankfully very long ago, someone telling me only to say ‘sorry’ if it meant “I know I did wrong and I won’t do it again”. I used to add a third part to this, “and I’m going to make it right”.

So, what to do if your big deal is jeopardised by an out of control Force of Customer Services?

It’s so easy to get distracted and enter a downward spiral as your deal tornadoes out of sight.

Two recent billion-dollar corporate calamities shed light for the solution seller.

Remember the recent BlackBerry outage? Here’s one piece of commentary as the PR disaster ballooned;

“Day 3 of BlackBerry black-out. Some free advice.
Explain while you fix. Apologise when you have. Recompense after.
Handling so far woeful.”

Someone told me that when originally typed, the final ‘l’ was instead the letter immediately to its left on the keyboard. Which if true is quite a fitting slip.

Then this week, the slapstick bus company (but then isn’t just about every flag carrier like this?) that is Qantas saw their passengers suffer a disrupted journey due to an engine alert.

Fortunately (or not, depending on your approach to problem containment) Stephen Fry was on board and on-tweet to tell the world. Via his 3 million followers, he shared this sheet of A4.

Whilst I’m not convinced these Qantas specifics are a totally fitting way of helping smooth the waters, it is a start.

What’s happened?
What we’re doing?
What happens next?

There’s still a bit of hands-off attitude coming through and not really much by way of making things less traumatic. Yet the formula can be seen.

It is an undoubted lesson of history that in the unwelcome event’s immediate aftermath, political posturing and apportioning blame are a complete waste of time. Getting people focused first on the resolution is the key. And this process is one proven way of reaching that state.  Can you say the same for your Fix policy?

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