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Customer Service: Here's how to practice damage control



When an error in judgment happens, we can be stopped dead in our tracks.

Our first impulse may be to cover it up because every screw-up includes a price to pay, and we don't want to pay it. But the toll for not admitting a mistake can be even worse. It can cause pain, a loss of reputation (both yours and the organization's), and at least temporary failure.

The next impulse may be to blame others. Instead of saying "It's my fault this happened," some people refuse to take responsibility and may try to point fingers at others.

Don't do it. Don't ignore it, deny it, play it down, or rationalize it.

In his book Recovery of the Sacred Heart (HCI), psychiatrist Carlos Walter M.D. Ph.D. recommends some serious damage control. How do you repair an error? He says:

1. Acknowledge it to yourself; admit it to others; and do it immediately. Honesty is most important when it comes to errors in judgment.

2. Repair the damage. Make an apology to the offended customer or fellow employee. Try to change or eliminate the specific behavior that caused the problem.

3. Face up to the consequences. You're eventually going to pay a price for screwing up, the sooner you get through it, the better.

4. Grieve. You may have lost face and credibility, but adversity builds character. Handling it can give you strength and determination.

5. Move on. Learn from the incident and go on with your work.

What virtue is there in taking these steps? Virtue is its own reward, says Walter. It helps you sleep at night, and you don't have to remember what you said because it's the truth.

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