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Accountability – for customer delight and business success

Providing exceptional or excellent customer service begins with saying sorry. It’s simple and easy to do – it builds trust, and develops deeper relationships with your clients that will bring them back, and spread the word to reach more clients. And yet, few companies and their representatives do it.

Many companies simply won’t accept responsibility or admit that they are accountable if they make mistakes or the customer is displeased. Whether they are afraid of people taking action against them, in the litigatory landscape we live in, or they are too proud or arrogant to admit their errors – I don’t know. But mistakes do happen. We should accept that fact, apologise, and learn from those mistakes so they don’t occur again.

Internally, we need to examine the reasons for the error – review our business processes and procedures, our staff training or our infrastructure, and eliminate similar mistakes occurring in future. There is no failure in that – only feedback. We will do better in future,

But for the client or customer facing an intransigent manager, staff member, or faceless company, there’s nothing more infuriating, upsetting or frustrating than a business that won’t take responsibility for their mistakes or take accountability for customer’s difficulties or inconvenience they experience.

Early on, in one of my businesses, we had suppliers who failed repeatedly in fulfilling our service agreements. There were issues beyond their control due to faults of technology, but we would have really appreciated a sincere apology, instead of repeatedly failed promises, a metaphorical shrug of the shoulders and consistent delays. Their apparent dismissal of the problem, blaming others, and their refusal to take responsibility, or even to apologise, was infuriating.

I would prefer to see a company being accountable for any problems, delays or neglect.  I expect them to put the customer first and consider the impact on them – then, to take the issue or complaint seriously and find an acceptable solution or alternative to satisfy the customer’s needs. Then, investigate the problem, identify the learning to be gleaned from it, and take steps to ensure that the situation is never repeated.

When a company blames others and worse – still – even blames the customer – this is unacceptable. If you want to succeed, you need to take responsibility for your business’s failiure to please – and take a customer-centric approach to service delivery.

As a business leader or manager, don’t allow a culture of blame to exist in your organisation. If  staff make mistakes, or fall short, don’t berate or punish them – allow them to learn from it, understand what went wrong and resolve to do things differently in future. Use it as a point for their personal or professional development – or if it’s the result of a failing of the system within the business, make changes to improve things so this doesn’t arise again.

Encourage accountability at all levels within the business, embedding it within your company values and culture. Allow all staff to hold sufficient responsibility for their own actions and to feel personally accountable for all services in the company. Instill a sense of ownership amongst staff for all aspects and areas of the business, whether it’s within their control or not. If there is any error made, or any customer or supply chain partner or stakeholder displeased or dissatisfied, encourage staff to apologise immediately without any blame or excuses. This will help to regain the trust of your customer.

Many companies don’t deal with customer concerns or complaints effectively.  In providing services or marketing their goods, some companies use standard scripts or threaten staff that they must deal with calls within a certain number of minutes. While this may seem most efficient on paper, the human touch is lost, no rapport is built, the relationship – if it can be called that – is mechanical or non-existent, and customers feel steamrollered or rushed. Value the customer, or you will shortly end up with no business.

To resolve any problem or issue, do whatever is necessary. Go above and beyond expectations. Within the business, any customer dissatisfaction is a problem for the whole company and everyone in it, regardless of their position. Promote the concept that every employee is a customer service representative.

Rather than apportioning blame or passing on complaints to other people to deal with, encourage staff to be collectively responsible and proactive in resolving problems and complaints – focussing on pleasing the customer and providing exceptional service.

Excellence with accountability leads to success.


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