Profile - How I Overcome Order Errors

Why An Apology Isn't Enough

Sarah JohnstonEventually, every distributor has that uh-oh moment – all because of an order error. But smart businesspeople know they can turn a negative into a positive. "Customers are used to companies, not just in our industry, saying 'sorry' and then doing nothing about it," says Sarah Johnston, co-owner of PromoSpark (asi/349939). "I'm never going to go back to my customer and say ‘sorry, I can't do anything.'"

Johnston thinks her can-do approach has worked pretty well. "We've actually picked up referrals because of the way we've handled mistakes," she says. So what does Johnston and her staff do to resolve errors? Read on to find out.

Q: What's the first thing a distributor should do when an order error is found?
A: Distributors should do their research. Find out where the problem happened. Did it happen when the goods were ordered? When the goods were received? When the goods were printed? When the goods were shipped? Once you know where the problem happened, you can address that department so future mistakes don't happen. You then can also be honest with the customer on why the mistake took place.

Q: How far should a distributor go in trying to satisfy and retain the customer?
A: It depends on the customer. Never burn any bridges, but some customers you just can't make happy. We listen and apologize. For most customers, we will bend over backwards – even if it means sending a package overnight at our cost or hand-delivering the product.

Q: When is it OK to tell a customer that it was a supplier that messed up an order?
A: It's OK anytime, as long as you tell the customer that you are working with the supplier to find a resolution. You also need to assure the customer you are staying on top of the order until it is delivered completely. For example, I am working with a supplier who said they could fulfill a 7,500-glove order, but the quality was too low. I told my customer I was changing suppliers to increase quality, but her price would not increase, and she was thrilled. It showed the customer we care about going the extra mile to make her happy.

Q: What should a distributor do when it's the customer that's actually wrong?
A: Indirectly point out the mistake without pointing the finger. We fulfill a lot of team orders for race events around the county. It never fails that several teams will call and say they are missing one or two shirts from their order. We politely ask the customer if there was a chance someone joined the team after the order was placed or if they accidently ordered the wrong size. About 95% of the time the customer will say, "Oh, yes, I forgot. Sue joined after I placed my order." Sometimes we can help and get an additional item, but not always. When we are not accusatory, the customer is more understanding.

Q: What follow-up steps should a distributor take after a resolution is reached?
A: It depends on the resolution. If it's a resolution where you have to re-print goods, you follow the order through the whole system to make sure they were delivered on time. If it was a credit issued on an order, you make sure the accounting department added the credit memo into the system. Staying in front of your customer is key.

Q: How do you train staff members to ensure strong resolutions are reached after mistakes are made?
A: Some people are naturally better at problem resolution than others. We put our best people on problem resolution. You have to be a people person who can talk with the customer in a friendly manner. We have manuals for each department and mission statements of how every customer should feel after working with PromoSpark. It's a simple old saying, but treat people the way you would want to be treated.