In a previous post, I wrote about one of the characters who frequented the Vanity Beauty Shop in Florence, Ala., where my grandmother was proprietor. Miss Yvonne was a regular customer and a true original, from the top of her red beehive hairdo to the tips of her fire-engine-red-painted toenails. The Vanity Beauty Shop was the center of female culture and gossip in Florence, and Miss Yvonne was a centerpiece. Like most redheads, she was fair skinned, and one spring she decided to do something about that, with a new product that grandma had just acquired to make a little extra money – a newfangled sunless tanning formula that is still on the market today but was brand new at the time.
As was her nature, Miss Yvonne saw it and immediately wanted it. And, of course, she bypassed the directions and instead of using the suggested amount she proceeded to slather the entire contents all over her body. The tanning formula in today’s product is likely much more sophisticated, but back in the mid-60s it was basically akin to a dye that turned Miss Yvonne a highly unnatural shade of orange. The next day, my grandmother stood face-to-face with a decidedly agitated pumpkin-faced woman with a red beehive and a snarling attitude. “Now you’ve done it,” she told grandma. “Orange ain’t tan! Now I can’t be seen in public for at least two weeks and it’s your fault. What are you going to do about it?”
You may have encountered a customer like Miss Yvonne. Maybe it was a contractor who ignored all warnings and damaged your product during installation. Or maybe your sales team over-promised on a delivery date. Either way, you’ve got a problem when the customer comes back. Maybe it’s your fault, maybe it’s not. What are you going to do about it?
Well, here’s what grandma did. She took responsibility, even though it wasn’t really her fault. She apologized, and she empathized, saying, “Well I understand why you’re upset, Miss Yvonne. I’d be upset too.” Then she issued a refund and gave Miss Yvonne a free manicure and pedicure. And she took the tanning oil off the shelf and never sold another bottle. And instead of losing her business, she had a lifelong customer.
When that upset customer is in your face – whether it’s your fault or not – you own that problem, and your customer is looking to you to make it right. So make it right, using whatever is under your control, and preserve the relationship. A good old fashioned, “I’m sorry” still goes a long way – whether it’s in the first chair at the beauty shop or the business office of your plant.
President, National Precast Concrete Association