By Brad smith
Carnival Cruise Lines suffered yet another incident in March of this year, shining a spotlight on the importance of customer experience once again. After reading about more than 4,000 people getting stranded on a cruise ship in less-than-ideal living conditions for the second time in a matter of weeks, I wondered what small businesses would do in a crisis situation. Providing an exceptional customer experience can make all the difference for your company, brand, and customers, even in a time of crisis. With that in mind, here are some strategies that could help you turn a crisis into a positive situation.
Address the issue with empathy. We've all seen this before; a company does something wrong, then skirts around the issue. Whether you're a big business or a small one, your public wants an explanation, acknowledgement of the toll your actions have had on your customers, and details on what actions you're going to take to resolve the situation. Everyone makes mistakes. It's all in how you correct it.
Apologize. Think about this in your personal life. Doesn't a sincere apology go a long way? Does a sincere apology singlehandedly remedy a crisis situation in the business world? Of course not, but a sincere apology will humanize your company and spokesperson, while delivering confidence at a time when it's needed most.
Exceed expectations through full transparency. Put yourself in your customer's shoes. What would you want done to rectify the situation? Whatever the answer is, do that action, plus one thing. One of the very best things you can do to extend your relationship with that customer is to fully disclose the root causes of the issues and the steps you are taking to arrest and address it. Customers want the companies they do business with to make things right. Even when it seems nothing will help, the effort will be appreciated.
Keep promises and be honest. This goes along with exceeding expectations. Whatever you've promised your customers, deliver it, and deliver it well. It's as simple as that. It's better to under promise and over deliver than the opposite. Don't promise more than you can provide, and never lie through omission; it will be found out in the end.
Take to the social channels. It's important to have a crisis communication plan in place before you begin to tweet and blog, but the most important thing to remember is silence can be your worst enemy. Don't let your customers wonder what's happening. That will only upset them further. Remember, your customers are living in a world of instant information. The more prepared you are, the better.
Focus on the customers you do have. So often companies focus on acquiring new sales and clients. When your reputation is on the line, ensure your current customers are the number one priority.
Let Carnival Cruise Lines be an example of the importance of having a plan to provide an exceptional customer experience during a time of crisis. Doing so will instill confidence in your company and go a long way in enhancing long-term customer loyalty.
Brad Smith has nearly 20 years of leadership experience in the web consumer, enterprise software, and communication service provider industries, spanning sales and marketing, product management and development, service architecture, and service/support delivery roles. As executive vice president of customer experience for Sage North America, he is responsible for developing all aspects of the Sage commitment to the customer experience, from product design and customer support, to the invoice experience and all touch points in between. Smith was most recently vice president of customer experience for Yahoo! He also previously held senior leadership roles with Symantec, Openwave, and Verisign.