when-sorry-isnt-good-enoughThis is a tale of two customer service failures. And the world of difference in the way they were handled.

The first occurred at a fast-casual restaurant. I won’t reveal the name—I’ll just note that it’s a place you can STOP to get WINGS. I placed my order and waited. Because their food is cooked to order, there’s always a wait, typically about ten minutes or so. I’m cool with that. Good food is worth waiting for.

The problem was, the wait went on and on. And on. My stomach was growling and a migraine was beginning to build in my head. After nearly half an hour, my food was finally ready.

Remember what I said a moment ago about good food being worth waiting for? Well, this food wasn’t good. The chicken was dry and the fries were undercooked. I was disappointed, frustrated, and annoyed.

I went to the counter and asked to see the manager. When she appeared, I recounted all the problems I had just experienced. Her response? “I’m so sorry.”

And nothing else.

I even pressed her: “Is that it?”

She said, “We’ll work to make sure that doesn’t happen next time.”

I told her that based on that experience, I didn’t think there was going to be a next time. And I’m pretty sure there won’t be. Not with all the competitors in that space.

The second story occurred at a supermarket. Again, I won’t name the establishment—I’ll merely mention that the FOODS they sell tend to be WHOLE.

I had placed a special order with the seafood department for a party I was attending. I arrived on the appointed day and went to the seafood counter to pick up my order. But when the man returned from the back, he had bad news for me: they had apparently been unable to get the product in. When I asked why someone from the department hadn’t called me—as they promised me they would if they couldn’t get it—he had no idea.

In a state of anger and shock, I went to the customer service desk and asked for the store manager. When she arrived, I explained what had happened, why that particular order was so important, and how significant my problem was.

Like the restaurant manager only days before, she also said, “I’m so sorry.”

Unlike the restaurant manager, however, she went further. She began looking for ways to make things right and rebuild my confidence in the store. She offered me anything in the seafood case free of charge. And before we finished our interaction, she gave me a gift card to use later. Even though I had experienced a problem with the store, she wanted me to leave on a positive note. And because of her actions, I will remain a customer of theirs.

Mistakes happen all the time. What matters is how they’re handled. For minor issues, a simple apology is often sufficient. But when a mistake ruins the customer experience, an apology just isn’t good enough. Action needs to be taken. Because that action can mean the difference between losing a customer forever and keeping them forever.

Any given customer can mean hundreds, thousands, even millions of dollars in sales for you over their lifetime. (Especially when you include all the people they influence.) What’s it worth to keep those customers?