Tom Glenn, a second generation owner of a chain of Ace Hardware stores, tells a wonderful story about his father, Elder Glenn.
One day an agitated customer came in the store, walked up to Elder and stated: “I have a problem.” Turned out the customer bought two items that each had a $5 rebate. The customer claimed he did exactly what he was supposed to do to get his rebates—which was to mail the receipt and the code on the package to the manufacturer. The rebates never showed up and the customer was upset.
Now, it wasn't Elder's fault. It may have been lost in the mail, or perhaps the customer did make an error. However, it became Elder's problem—a problem he planned to solve. And he did so quickly, easily and with no hassle to his customer.
Elder simply went over to the cashier and asked her to take two $5 bills out of the cash register. He handed them over to the surprised customer, who had obviously expected a confrontation.
From that point on Elder had a customer—and a friend—for life. Every time the customer came in the store he would seek out Elder to just say, “Hello.”
The store owner would go on to use this example in one of his employee team meetings. Elder often shared this story, referring to it as the “Five Dollar Lifeboat.” The lesson to his workers was that for just $5 he turned an unhappy customer who might never come back into an act that might be worth hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars—not to mention getting a loyal fan of the store. He gave permission to his employees to use the Five Dollar Lifeboat whenever necessary to take care of a customer.
There are plenty of companies that have similar Five Dollar Lifeboat procedures. The Ritz-Carlton comes to mind with their “Two Thousand Dollar Lifeboat.” OK, they don't call it a lifeboat, but similar to Elder Glenn's concept, an employee of the Ritz-Carlton has the ability to spend up to $2,000 to take care of a guest who has been wronged.
Both Ace Hardware associates and the Ritz-Carlton employees have been trained to understand how and when to put this tool into action. In order for this, and just about any other customer focused concept, to be effective you must:
1. Properly train employees.
2. Empower, which means trust, the employees to do it right.
3. When they do it right, celebrate the success. If they do it wrong, make it a teachable moment that doesn't erode their confidence and trust in the system.
Shep Hyken is a customer service expert, professional speaker and New York Times bestselling business author who periodically contributes columns to Tire Business. He can be reached at 314-692-2200 or at www.hyken.com. Information on his customer service training programs is available at www.thecustomerfocus.com.