As it appeared in the Daily Nation on June 12th , 2018
by Lucy Kiruthu

How should we react when a meal is delayed, a flight is cancelled, a package is lost or an email enquiry is not responded to? Should we just ignore the incidence and forgive the business, request for an explanation and improvement of service or just walk away never to return? In some businesses, service blunders are the order of the day and no action seems to be taken to improve the situation. In other businesses, every effort is made to ensure that lapses are prevented and if they happen, corrective action is taken immediately. How customers react to a given situation depends on a number of factors. I believe that one important factor is the level of trust that the customer has on the business.

A few days ago, we had just boarded a Southwest flight and were preparing for take-off when an announcement was made that the flight had been cancelled. The cancellation was because of a major mechanical issue. I observed as the customers calmly disembarked and awaited their rerouting. None of the customers seemed to complain or protest the airline’s decision. In our case, the flight cancellation resulted to a four hours wait at the airport. As part of the airline’s service recovery strategy, we each received a $200 transferrable voucher. The voucher, which was a surprise, was more than what we had paid for the flight. Southwest airlines is known to have built a great reputation and it has a very loyal customer base. It was evident during the incidence that its customers are very forgiving and trust the airline.

Forgiveness shows that customers trust a company enough to give it a second chance. Based on our own experiences and those of others, we are in a position to judge a business’s overall customer focus. Over time, as customers, we develop perceptions about a business. These perceptions are either positive or negative. When mistakes happen, we are ready and willing to forgive those companies that we trust to have our best interests at heart. However, if we do not trust a company, service blunders reinforce our negative perceptions. Such blunders become a reflection of a company’s incompetence. A service blunder can therefore be easily forgiven or can result to a further loss of confidence.

How businesses respond to service lapses is crucial. Is a sincere apology made? Is there a swift resolution? Is there any form of service recovery? When things go wrong, smart companies make amends that restore the faith that customers have on their brands. Customers might not forget but are willing to forgive businesses that are committed to make their experiences painless.

Today, more than ever before, customers have a wider choice. Customers can simply walk away after a service blunder. What can businesses do? Smart businesses must focus on the quality of their products and service as well as their overall experience. They must aim to create and deliver value for the customer resulting to satisfaction, delight and loyalty. Such businesses put in extra effort to build trust at every point of interaction; they seek to hold on to their customers both in the good and the bad times. They are focused on quickly winning back the customers. Above all, they recognize that customers are becoming less and less forgiving.

Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer connect via twitter @KiruthuLucy