Follow up. Follow Through.

The title of this blog has become a phrase that a few of us at Fabricare use to make sure we handle a customer request or issue at the highest level.  Although following up on something is a basic business practice, we want to have a conversation on how that relates to customer service.

Let’s look at one example of how we use this concept.  

We recently cleaned a nice shirt, and it came out of the cleaning process without a button.  The button was unique to this shirt and replacing it with just another button wouldn’t be the same.  

Often these types of “issues” cause employees to panic as they don’t want to tell the customer of a problem.  But procrastination is the worst thing one can do when you won’t be able to deliver an order on time. Here are the steps on how we handled this situation, and how to handle similar ones.

Step #1 - Contact the customer immediately:
Do this even before you know how you’re going to solve the problem.  Often, people avoid this step and try to solve the problem or get information to give the customer but this just delays communication.  This first step also gives you an opportunity to engage an extra time which is just good service. At this first step, since you don’t really have information yet, you can offer a couple of initial options to the customer along with an apology:

“Dear John, we are reaching out to you because a button is missing on your nice Gucci shirt. We know how a button is an essential part of the garment so we don’t want to replace it with something that is not acceptable to you.  While we research replacing with an exact match, we want to let you know the situation and see if you’d like the shirt back with a replacement button while we reach out to the manufacturer. We want to get your shirt back to you as soon as possible and apologize if this causes a delay.”   

Step #2 - Explore your options immediately:
Reach out to others in your organization for ideas on how to solve the problem.  Reach out to your industry contacts for solutions (e.g. fellow dry cleaners). Reach out to contacts outside your industry for ideas (e.g. retailers and manufacturers).  

Step #3 - Execute your plan:
In this example, we exhausted our resources and had to go directly to Gucci. This meant mailing the shirt to Italy so they could match the button exactly.  We quickly sent the shirt while getting them to commit to an estimated time frame. At this point, use your calendar or some other system to make it impossible for you to forget to follow up.  At Fabricare, we use the weekly clipboard for this as well as the calendar.

Step #4 - Communicate with the customer:
Tell him what you’ve done, the next steps and the estimated time frame. Apologize again for the delay and empathize with him for the fact that clothes are seasonal and he is without his shirt for part of that season.  

Step #5 - Follow up:
Check on the status of the order on the date they gave you in step #4.  Often businesses don’t have the sense of urgency you have with your customer and aren’t as committed to due dates. Check to see if it’s on schedule or going to be delayed.  Follow up with the customer and tell him that you’ve been checking on it and that it’s on time (or delayed). If delayed, get the supplier to commit to another date and then follow up again on that date and repeat communication with your customer.

Step #6 - Follow through with the customer:
We sometimes call this “closing the door” because even though things may seem resolved, they’re not really “good” in the customer’s mind. At this step, we communicate with the customer that the order is complete and we will deliver it immediately.  Finally, at this last step, we again empathize with the fact that we didn’t deliver his order on time and as a result will put a credit on his account as a goodwill gesture.  

Issues come up in every business and most people understand that.  
How you solve these issues will often make the difference between making a customer for life or losing them.  

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