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Seven Actions to Regain Customer Trust When Things Go Wrong

by Jeanne Bliss  |  
June 5, 2007

At some point, your business will suffer a failure that disappoints customers. The measure of a company is determined at such moments.

Customers see your true colors at these times more than at any other. How you explain, react, remove the pain, and take accountability for your actions, clearly signals your sentiment toward customers and reveals the collective "heart" of your organization.

These are emotional times. For customers, you are either sincere in your efforts or you're not. And they can immediately sniff out the difference.

Three recent high-profile customer experiences illustrate the importance of a well-executed forgiveness and recovery plan:

  1. Menu Foods. The manufacturer of wet dog and cat food sold by the millions under private label brands at major stores such as Petco and Wal-Mart has been trying to regain ground with customers since March 2007; that's when it was discovered that some of its wet cat and dog food was produced with adulterated wheat gluten. Deaths of beloved family pets, and the illnesses of multitudes of dogs and cats, are being attributed to the company's product.

  2. JetBlue. The airline's customer-experience meltdown began with a winter 2007 snowstorm, when it ended up canceling 1,096 flights and stranding thousands of passengers, flight attendant and pilots.

  3. Con Edison. New York City customers experienced a 10-day power outage in the height of the summer of 2006.

If I had had the ear of these companies, I'd have recommended the following seven actions for preparing, reacting to, and regaining customer trust when things go wrong:

1. Put as much forethought into planning customer experience recovery as you do planning IT and natural disaster recovery.

Inventory the potential scenarios. Determine how your organization will engage across the silos or operating areas to swiftly spring into action. What are the early warning signals to tip off a potential crisis? Who are the cross-company members of a "customer recovery" unit to brainstorm solutions? Are you nimble enough to spring into action, identify the issue, plan a recovery, and implement within a day? How about within hours? You should be. That's what your customers expect, and deserve.

One of the most widely criticized elements of the Menu Foods situation was that it took the company so long to acknowledge and respond. The first precautionary recall announcement was made on March 16. It wasn't until March 23 that it got its call centers in gear and began contacting customers.

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Jeanne Bliss is the founder of CustomerBLISS (, a consulting and coaching company, and the author of Chief Customer Officer: Getting Past Lip Service to Passionate Action.

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