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Lessons in Customer Service: Owning Your Mistakes - by Greg Phelps

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When I want to get away from the city, and work, I retreat to my lake house in Northern Indiana. It’s quiet, idyllic place where I can relax. It’s also where I can enjoy my favorite hobby: water skiing. However, to start the skiing season, I have to get my boat out of winter storage first.

Every Fall, I winterize my boat here in Indianapolis and then pull it up to our lake house in early Spring. I tow it back to Indy because there is an authorized Ski Nautique boat dealer here. They are my trusted guys, that is until now.

Last week, I picked my boat and headed upstate. I launched it, then drove around the docks to get gas. Within seconds, I could tell something terrible was happening. Steam was coming out of the engine compartment. My bilge pump was on and water pumping out of the boat.

I soon realized that my “go-to guys” had not reconnected any of the water hoses used to keep the engine cool. Instead, that water was pouring out into the hull of the boat and the engine was getting HOT!

Long story, short - the very nice woman at the marina knew precisely what to do. She grabbed her tools and helped me get everything reconnected. However, I couldn’t help but walk away from the situation thinking, “How did this even happen?”

After arriving at our pier and securing the boat, I called the company who winterized it. A procedure they perform throughout the Fall. I calmly spoke with the service manager. We are on a first name basis. I explained the situation and the damage that was luckily averted. I thought his response would have been something along the lines of “Wow, I’m so sorry about this Greg. I’m going to investigate what happened and get back with you.” Nope.

In business, I’ve been on his side of the coin. My approach to these situations always mirrors the proverb, “you can attract more bees with sugar than vinegar.” So, I stayed calm as we spoke. Rather sympathizing or owning the mistake, he repeatedly challenged me on who should take responsibility for this error and continually told me I was wrong in thinking it was them. “We just don’t do that sort of thing,” he repeated. Even when I explained that they were the only ones who had worked with my boat, and that I had just picked it up from them the day before, he wouldn’t budge.

Reflecting on this situation now, I think of our company (CAIRS Solutions) and how we handle customer service issues. Even if we don’t believe we are the culprits in a situation, "the customer is always right." I know it’s an old motto, but it’s true and it’s critical to maintaining a good reputation in the industry. If you’re ever in a situation where you’re fielding complaints from customers – forget your ego and do everything you can to understand their concerns. No one is perfect. When you make a mistake, how you handle the situation and the solution you provide is how you’re judged. Own your mistakes and show the customer that they are valued. That goes a long way in any relationship (business or personal).

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