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How to rescue a loyal customer, by David S. Allen

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You have customers, and that’s a good thing.  If you have loyal customers, that’s a better thing.  Loyal customers don’t just buy stuff from you. They often are emotionally attached to your company.  In their minds, they wave your brand’s flag.  Best of all, they enthusiastically talk to others about your company’s products or services.  (Depending on your organiation, replace the word "customers" with any group you must have to keep your doors open--like patients, donors or clients.)
 
Loyal customers place a high level of trust in your company and how you do business.  But when a loyal customer perceives that your organization has damaged that trust, you have an emergency.  And that emergency requires a rescue.    
 
This story is true but the names have been changed.  Acme Home Service is a residential heating and cooling business in Florida.  In case you don’t know, a working air conditioning system in that state is one of life’s priorities.  It ranks right up there with breathing, which in Florida is no given when the summer heat is on and the AC is out.    
 
Sue was a loyal Acme customer. She thought the Acme guys hung the moon. They had worked in her home for several years, had always done an excellent job and Sue eagerly referred the company to other homeowners. But on a late summer day two years ago, Sue the loyal customer was upset with Acme. They had installed the wrong cooling equipment in her home—equipment she specifically said she did not want.  Sue believed this was more than a mistake.  She thought the company was taking advantage of her.  
 
Sue was hurt.  She had placed her trust in Acme and now she was questioning her decision.  Had she been wrong about the guys she had personally recommended to family members and friends—guys she thought had hung the moon?
 
Sue phoned Jim, Acme’s owner, and complained bitterly.  Jim investigated and discovered that Sue was right.  His technicians had made a big mistake.  Jim drove to Sue’s home, honestly explained what happened, sincerely apologized for the error and humbly offered to resolve it. 
 
What happened next was interesting.  After they talked it out, Sue was so happy with Acme again she literally hugged Jim as he left her home.  I was there and saw it.    
 
Jim restored Sue’s trust not only in the company but in her choice to be a loyal Acme customer.  That is precisely what you want—the restoration of trust.
 
Here are some steps to consider when a customer rescue is needed.  
 
1. Contact the customer and move quickly. Your loyal customer may feel betrayed, an emotion that often grows deeper with each passing hour. Communicate with her ASAP that you are immediately looking into it and that the issue is your top priority.  Tell her when she can expect to hear back from you and contact her before then.   
2. Do what you say.  Find answers and report back to the customer when you have the facts—and the sooner the better.  
3. Be honest. You play with fire when you hide the truth from a loyal customer. She may know more about the problem than you think. Your credibility is on the line. Don’t dynamite it by being less than truthful. 
4. Fix the problem and do a little more—something creative that makes the loyal customer feel personally appreciated.  
5. Explain what changes your company is making to ensure the problem never again happens to her or to another customer, like a change in a process or a policy. 
6. Follow up the next day with a short handwritten note thanking the customer for her loyalty and mail it.  
 
A loyal customer is a trusting ambassador who proudly tells others how wonderful your company is.  When something or someone in your company damages the relationship, one of two things will happen.  You will rescue her.  Or she will take her loyalty to a competitor.