It’s hard to imagine that any marketing campaign or promotional offer can be so successful that it hurts business, but it can happen. However, your small business can survive these challenges by knowing what steps to take when your customers are less than satisfied.
For example, the owner of an independent West Coast restaurant failed to judge just how popular a promotional event would be. The restaurant participated in an annual fundraising program in which a percentage of the proceeds from dinners served on a particular weeknight were donated to charity. It was one of many establishments involved in a well-organized promotional campaign for the event. But the relatively new business owner staffed the restaurant for a low-key night.
On the appointed night, the small restaurant quickly became crowded. Staff seated too many patrons and unwisely accommodated a large party that did not make a reservation. The full menu was available, which further taxed the understaffed kitchen and wait staff. Ultimately, patrons faced an unacceptably long wait and grew increasingly dissatisfied.
The well-intentioned restaurateur did her best to assuage the damage at the time by throwing in some freebies and knocking down tabs on the spot, but many customers left dissatisfied. Later on Yelp, a popular online review site, customers savaged the restaurant’s service.
Despite the large amount of money raised for the charity, the evening was something of a disaster, hurting the restaurant’s reputation. That’s hard on a new business.
Far too many businesses would do nothing in the aftermath, losing the disgruntled customers for good. But proactive businesses can respond in a manner that reduces the ill effects.
In crisis situations such as these, the first step is for the business owner to immediately acknowledge and assume responsibility for the mistakes. You’ll gain points with clients with a sincere apology. To foster goodwill, for instance, you can emphasize the success of the event by publicizing how much money was raised on behalf of the designated charity. Posting that information on Yelp or on the restaurant’s own Web site can counter some negativity.
But the next step is the most important: putting into motion a course of action to ensure that the same mistakes are not made again. The restaurant needed to make sure that on any given night, not just for a fundraising event, it can provide impeccable service to its clients. And when the next fundraiser comes around, the management should look at limiting menu choices, staffing up, scaling back the number of patrons, and reducing business hours. Knowing what you can provide as well as what you can’t can help you serve your clients better.
By demonstrating concern, working to maintain goodwill, and handily correcting any inaccuracies that arise, you’ll be able to get things back to normal as quickly as possible. In the instances when things go awry at your company, learn from your mistakes. A business that assesses what has happened and makes corrections based on those mistakes can ride out the storm better than one that does nothing. The important thing is to keep the customer happy when disappointments lurk.
For example, an extremely well regarded bakery in the San Francisco Bay Area is a master at fostering goodwill in the face of potential disappointment. The bakery makes a fried chicken sandwich that attracts long lines of customers daily. It regularly runs out of these famed sandwiches, but patrons rarely get angry or rude, even after long, unfruitful waits. That’s because the owners proactively communicate about the dwindling sandwich supply as well as “bribe” the customers for their loyalty by giving them free handouts of their baked goods. Their goal is to keep patrons from being too disappointed, and their approach works.
If patrons were left guessing until they arrived at the counter, they might be upset, and the bakery could face a situation in which overriding disappointment would hurt its business. But with honest, direct, responsible action, this business keeps its clients coming back again and again.
If you can avert a crisis by deftly meeting challenges directly and compassionately, your company’s reputation may be enhanced, not harmed, by such challenges. The solution is to plan accordingly and to use your best judgment in correcting wrongs along the way. With some strategizing and a few simple steps, a business that has underplanned can reclaim some unhappy clients.